An archival photo of Shoukri and Blinken
Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri arrived in Washington DC on Tuesday for talks with his US counterpart Antony Blinken and other US officials and congressional members.
A Foreign Ministry statement released on Monday said Shoukri would be in Washington this week for an official visit. “This visit comes in the framework of intensifying communications and consultations between the two friendly countries – Egypt and the United States – as well as reinforcing the distinguished strategic relations between them, and exchanging views about a number of important regional and international issues of mutual concern,” the statement said.
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Ahmed Hafez pointed out that while in Washington Shoukri would meet Blinken and a number of US administration officials, in addition to holding meetings with several US Chamber of Commerce members, think tanks, and strategic research centres.
A delegation from the American Chamber of Commerce in Cairo (AmCham) paid a “Door Knock Mission” visit to Washington between 28 March and 2 April to boost economic and investment relations between Egypt and the US. The delegation, led by AmCham President Tarek Tawfik and President of the Egyptian-American Businessmen Council Omar Mehanna, said the visit to Washington had focused on attracting new American investments to Egypt. “It also discussed how Egypt has been negatively impacted by the Russia-Ukraine war as it is the world’s largest importer of wheat and that 80 per cent of its wheat imports are from Russia and Ukraine, not to mention that 20 per cent of Egypt’s tourist inflows originate from those two countries,” an AmCham report said.
The last meeting between Shoukri and Blinken was just two weeks ago when they attended the 27-28 March Negev summit in Israel. They joined the foreign ministers of Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco to discuss a number of key issues, including Iran, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the war in Ukraine. Spokesperson Hafez tweeted that “Minister Shoukri and his US counterpart Antony Blinken held talks during the summit to tackle a number of international and regional issues as part of maintaining consultation and coordination concerning issues of mutual concern.”
Shoukri’s last visit to Washington was in November 2021 when he and Blinken kicked off the first round of the US-Egyptian strategic dialogue under the administration of US President Joe Biden. An official statement said Shoukri and Blinken noted that 2022 would mark the centennial of US-Egypt diplomatic relations and reaffirmed the importance of the US-Egypt strategic partnership and identified areas in which to deepen bilateral and regional cooperation, including economic and commercial affairs, education, cultural issues, consular affairs, human rights, justice and law enforcement, and defence and security. They also agreed to hold the dialogue on a regular basis.
Mohamed Al-Orabi, a former foreign minister of Egypt, said regular consultations between Egypt and the United States and talks between the foreign ministers of the two countries were important to maintaining strong relations between the two countries. “As we are seeing quick developments at both regional and international levels, the most dramatic of which is the war in Ukraine, so it is important that the two countries discuss these developments and exchange views on them,” Al-Orabi said.
Tarek Al-Khouli, a member of the House of Representatives’ Committee of Foreign Affairs, believes that the war in Ukraine will be on the top of the agenda of the talks in Washington this week. “The meeting with Blinken in Washington also comes a few days after Shoukri and other Arab foreign ministers visited Moscow to hold consultations on the war in Ukraine.”
Al-Khouli said he believed there was agreement in Egypt that sanctions against Russia had caused harm to national economies around the world, including Egypt. “Though Egypt voted in favour of condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the UN General Assembly early last March, it rejected the anti-Russia economic sanctions as they are outside the framework of the international system, and that these kinds of sanctions always cause adverse humanitarian effects,” Al-Khouli said, expecting that the discussions between Shoukri and Blinken on the issue will be intense.
Al-Khouli believes that other regional issues such as elections in Libya, political developments in Sudan, and conflicts in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen will also be on the agenda of Shoukri’s talks in Washington.
Al-Khouli also noted that climate change will be a major topic of discussion as Egypt is scheduled to host the COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh in November. “It is clear that the US allocates great importance to this conference and that this is clear in the fact that Egypt and the US set up a joint working group to coordinate climate policies ahead of the COP27 summit,” said Al-Khouli.
US Climate Envoy John Kerry paid a two-day visit to Egypt in February during which he held talks with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Shoukri who is the COP27 president. Kerry, a former US secretary of state and presidential candidate, said “the US is confident Egypt’s leadership of COP27 will give much needed momentum to international efforts on climate change.”
Many local political analysts, however, believe that the relations between Egypt and other Arab-US allies — particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — on one hand and President Biden on the other are not as warm as they were with his predecessor Donald Trump. Prominent Egyptian political thinker and Senator Abdel-Moneim Said said in a TV interview that the US ‘‘is aware of Egypt’s influence in the Middle East and the Arab world and this explains why it is always keen that the two countries hold talks on a regular basis to exchange views and maintain coordination.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.