Prince Charles and his wife Camilla Parker, duchess of Cornwall, paid a two-day visit to Egypt on 18 and 19 November. The visit was part of a tour that also included Jordan.
It was Prince Charles and Camilla’s first official overseas trip since the start of the coronavirus pandemic at the beginning of 2020.
The schedule of the royal couple on their first day was packed with events. They first met with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and his wife, Intissar, at the Ittihadiya Presidential Palace. Presidential Spokesman Bassam Radi said Prince Charles and President Al-Sisi held talks for around 40 minutes. Meanwhile, the duchess of Cornwall and President Al-Sisi’s wife met separately.
According to Radi, Charles and Al-Sisi discussed efforts to combat terrorism and extremism and cooperation between the two countries in areas such as health and higher education, environment conservation, and climate change. Egypt’s first lady wrote on her Facebook page that she and Camilla discussed Egypt’s efforts towards the empowerment of women.
Prince Charles and Camilla then visited Al-Azhar Mosque where Charles spoke on interfaith dialogue. “I believe with all my heart that responsible men and women should work to restore mutual respect between religions, and we must do everything in our power to overcome the mistrust that poisons the lives of many people.”
Prince Charles also met with Al-Azhar students before attending a multi-faith reception with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, and the Archbishop of the Anglican Province of Alexandria Sami Fawzi.
British embassy officials said that Prince Charles is the driving force behind a UK academic scholarship programme which allows Al-Azhar clerics to study at British universities before returning to Al-Azhar. The programme aims to promote dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims and create a generation of Al-Azhar clerics who are excellent in English and can lead dialogue on religious tolerance.
Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla, who was wearing a veil and Pakistani-style dress, made a tour of the 1,000-year-old mosque and took photos at its central courtyard.
In a statement, the British embassy said the focus of Prince Charles’ visit to Egypt was on interfaith dialogue, environmental issues, heritage preservation, and providing jobs and opportunities for young people. The trip followed the UK’s hosting of COP26, with Egypt slated to host next year’s summit.
Prince Charles represented the royal family at COP26, during which British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned in a speech that Alexandria was among the cities facing the risk of being lost “beneath the waves” because of climate change.
Prince Charles’ Deputy Private Secretary Chris Fitzgerald said this week that interfaith dialogue and climate change were the main issues on Prince Charles’ agenda in Egypt. “In this decisive decade for climate change, the next 12 months are therefore expected to see a significant cooperation between the UK and Egypt,” said Fitzgerald.
Officials revealed the meeting between Prince Charles and the grand imam of Al-Azhar addressed the role of religion in preserving the environment. Al-Ahram newspaper reported on 22 November that Prince Charles had said during the meeting that the Quran has at least 30 verses calling for the preservation of nature.
“In his meeting with Pope Tawadros II, the head of the Coptic Church, Prince Charles also addresssed climate change,” said the newspaper, adding that “Prince Charles, Minister of Environment Yasmine Fouad, and Egyptian and British businessmen also discussed the opportunities of Egyptian-British cooperation in environment conservation and green projects.”
Prince Charles met with Fouad and other prominent officials on Friday morning at an event organised by the Sustainable Markets Initiative at the American University’s Greek Campus where he took part in a roundtable discussion on climate change and met the entrepreneurs behind 10 new energy projects.
Meanwhile, Camilla visited Ezbet Khairallah, a slum area in south Cairo where the British Council has been implementing a number of social development programs since 2017. Camilla also visited the Brooke Hospital for Animals in Al-Sayeda Zeinab.
Prince Charles and Camilla concluded their first day in Cairo by visiting the Pyramids and took a number of photos in front of the Pyramids and Sphinx.
On Friday, the couple travelled to Alexandria where they visited the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
Gareth Bayley, the British ambassador to Egypt, said in a TV interview on 20 November that interfaith dialogue dominated Prince Charles’ discussions during his visit. “While he was in Egypt, he got the opportunity to discuss this issue with the sheikh of Al-Azhar and Pope Tawadros, as well as the chance to address the role of religions in protecting the environment and the climate,” said Bayley.
Nora Ali, chair of the House of Representatives’ Tourism Committee, said Charles and Camilla’s visit to Egypt would help promote tourism. “Photos of the royal couple in front of the Pyramids, in Old Cairo and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina will have a positive impact on Egypt’s image in European tourist markets,” said Ali.
Bayley expects the number of British tourists visiting Egypt will reach at least 500,000 in the winter season.
MP Ahmed Abaza, deputy chairman of the House’s Arab Affairs Committee, said relations between London and Cairo, which had been frosty, are now booming, particularly in the areas of investment and military cooperation.
Mohamed Al-Rashidi, a member of the Senate, believes that “President Al-Sisi’s active and pragmatic diplomacy based on fostering relations with major European powers — particularly France, Germany, and the UK — is paying dividends in highlighting the image of Egypt as a friendly, stable, open, and religiously tolerant country.
“I think the world was impressed by how the prince and his wife were walking on the streets of Cairo and among ordinary people in a completely safe environment,” said Al-Rashidi.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 November, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly