How was your week-long visit to Aswan last week?
I visited Aswan last week, where we focused on all forms of cooperation between Egypt and Germany, including in the fields of development, renewable energy, economy and trade, education, healthcare, culture, scientific research, and women’s empowerment.
We visited the Aswan High Dam, where we are involved in the rehabilitation of the dam with 41 million euros from the German side, and visited the massive photovoltaic plant in Benban where German companies are also involved.
Since health is also a field of interest and cooperation between Egypt and Germany, I visited the Al-Germaniah Hospital, a German private foundation established in Aswan in 1913 to improve health services offered in less-developed areas and offering higher-quality medical treatment at relatively low prices.
I also visited the Magdi Yacoub Heart Foundation in Aswan, which is one of the most advanced heart centres in Africa and to which Germany has donated equipment. The foundation has impressive standards of service compatible with the high scientific standards in similar European institutions, and Germany is looking forward to intensifying scientific cooperation with it and other health institutions.
What about cooperation in the field of education and scientific research?
Education is one of our prime cooperation areas, and we have been very active in this sector for a long time. This year, we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the German Evangelical High School in Dokki (DEO), which was established in 1873, two years after German unification.
This is in addition to other partnerships in more than 30 schools in Egypt. Next year, there will be a celebration of the 140th anniversary of the establishment of the Deutsche Schule der Borromaerinnen (DSB). There are about 400,000 German speakers in Egypt, and German schools have several thousand students.
The German University in Cairo also celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2022, and there are discussions with German universities for intensifying cooperation and growth in the field of higher education and the use of German language in higher education. The German University in Cairo has around 13,000 students.
What is also relevant for us this year is the so-called 100 Schools Project, which is a programme with the Egyptian government about capacity building for primary and secondary schools through supporting the improvement of the quality of schooling. There is a shared desire by the German and Egyptian governments to strengthen cooperation in education, but we would like to improve the bureaucratic implementation of our cooperation projects in this field, including the long time it takes to register a new project or expand on existing ones.
Energy has been a key area of cooperation between Egypt and Germany. What is the current state of cooperation in this field?
We celebrated recently 15 years of the Egyptian-German Joint Committee on Renewable Energy (JCEE), which shows our commitment to supporting Egypt’s transition to renewable energy. Its goal is to produce 42 per cent of electricity generation from renewables by the year 2035.
This week, Parliamentary State Secretary at Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action Stefan Wenzel visited Egypt along with a German business delegation and several German companies operating in the energy sector to discuss ways of boosting cooperation in the electricity, renewable energy, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and green hydrogen fields, in addition to following up on the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between Egypt and Germany in November 2022 to enhance cooperation for the production and trade of LNG and green hydrogen.
Large importing companies from Germany and other countries in Europe are looking forward to signing more longer-term agreements on importing energy products from Egypt, especially when the latter is ready to produce more upstream production from new gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean, as Egypt has great potential in the field of producing natural gas.
Furthermore, the milestone of our cooperation is the commitment that was signed in Sharm El-Sheikh during the UN COP27 Climate Change Conference on Nexus on Water, Food, and Energy (NWFE) initiative. We have committed 285 million euros for this initiative, mainly in the energy sector, in addition to contributions from other countries including the US and the European Union and its member states.
What is important now is the implementation of projects in the NWFE initiative, and we are currently negotiating with the Egyptian government on how best to use the 285 million euros and accelerate the implementation of the projects under this fund.
What about current business and trade relations with Egypt?
Germany and the European Union have a strong interest in the stability of the Egyptian economy and the stability of the society through the prosperous and stable development of the country. Germany is currently Egypt’s second-largest trading partner in Europe, with a total volume of about 5.5 billion euros recorded in 2022 in bilateral trade.
Our engagement in Egypt has been mainly focusing on energy and infrastructure projects, and lately green hydrogen, which we would like to make great progress in. When we see the economic and financial situation in Egypt, which has been worsened by the impact of the Russian war in Ukraine, we need to intensify the investment in industry and production.
We have already advanced in energy and infrastructure projects in Egypt, but it is more urgent currently to increase production lines in Egypt, create more job opportunities, increase the purchasing power of the people, and to make available more private capital from abroad and domestically.
In that regard, I recently attended the reopening of the BMW production line in Egypt, and there will soon be another major step in opening another new German production line in the field of household appliances. These are positive steps to show the German commitment to the Egyptian market and the stability of the economy in Egypt, which is of tremendous importance for Germany. This means that private investment from local and international sources for production lines is urgently needed.
We encourage the Egyptian government to go ahead with further steps in making more efforts to privatise companies and giving the majority of shares in enterprises into the hands of private investors.
Given the international food crisis, how are Germany and Egypt cooperating on food security?
The root cause of the food crisis is the Russian war in Ukraine. Countries all over the world, including Egypt, are heavily affected by the war, namely through the food supply crisis, and it is also one of the causes of the currency devaluation and inflation in Egypt. We want to support Egypt even more to help the country face the negative effects of this crisis.
We appreciate Egypt’s position in supporting the condemnations of the war in the United Nations and expect our partners to make it clear through diplomatic exchanges with Russia that the latter has to take steps to bring the war to an end. This is now in its second year, and the conflict is escalating and is continuing to be a threat to international stability.
The war is a blatant breach of international law and must come to an end, but it is up to Russia to take steps to make this possible. We currently do not see any willingness from Russia to engage in diplomatic conversations to end the war.
We have seen how much Egypt is affected by the Russian war in Ukraine, in addition to other economic difficulties, and we are willing to support Egypt economically with our investments, trade, and financial support, together with other international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Food security in Egypt is also of prime importance in our activities, and through the World Food Programme (WFP), Germany is the largest bilateral contributor to their current food programme in Egypt with 110 million euros. This works on alleviating the severity of the economic, financial, and food crises that Egypt is going through.
WFP has several projects in the agricultural field in Egypt, supporting many villages and rural areas across Upper Egypt through the Hayah Karima (Decent Life) initiative. The projects aim to support not only food and nutrition, but also schooling, awareness training for mothers and families, income generation for women, and health. We are willing to maintain our strong support for these projects in Egypt to help make the lives of citizens in these areas better.
How are the economic crisis and the war in Ukraine affecting the flow of German tourists to Egypt?
Tourism is improving very positively. In 2022, about 1.2 million German tourists visited Egypt, mainly travelling to beach resorts like Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada.
Moreover, we have initiatives to intensify German cultural tourism. One of the German airlines, Condour, is now the first European airline to fly regularly to the recently opened Sphinx Airport in Giza on the western side of Cairo, in order to increase tourist visits to the Pyramids of Giza and other archaeological sites.
There are other initiatives on the tourism side, and we are currently talking with the local Egyptian authorities, the European Union, and archaeological institutes that undertake excavations on the west bank of the Nile in Aswan, to establish a European archaeological park that can improve the access of tourists to nearby tourist sites. This can also help to increase the flow of German tourists to Egypt.
What is Germany’s position on the recent escalation between the Israelis and Palestinians?
Germany is concerned about the recent escalation between the Israeli and Palestinian sides in the West Bank and the Eastern part of Jerusalem, and a joint statement was issued by Germany, France, Italy, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom to express our grave concern at the situation, especially the settlement policy which is going on against international law.
The contribution that the Egyptian government is making to the process of de-escalation of the situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is very positive, and we appeal to the Israeli and the Palestinian sides to bring the violence to an end.
We want to be helpful and supportive through diplomatic initiatives in the efforts to make it clear that the Israeli expansion of settlements has to come to an end and that steps which undo the possibility of a two-state solution must be avoided at all costs.
We are also supportive of the upcoming follow-up conference to the Aqaba Conference that Egypt is preparing, as this will help to take measures that will bring the escalation to an end.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 16 March, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly