Egypt and the UK: Working together

Dina Ezzat , Wednesday 5 Apr 2023

UK Ambassador to Egypt Gareth Bayley tells Al-Ahram Weekly about the many ways Cairo and London cooperate

Egypt and the UK:  Working together
Bayley photo: Sherif Sonbol


Last month, the British Ambassador to Egypt Gareth Bayley joined Egyptian and British officials in celebrating seven years’ work of the Newton-Mosharafa Fund (NMF). Named after British mathematician and physicist Isaac Newton, one of the most influential scientists in history, and Egyptian theoretical physicist Ali Mustafa Mosharafa who contributed to the development of quantum theory, the NMF was financed by the Egyptian and British governments on a 50-50 basis. It has allowed over 270 students to secure doctorates in UK universities. And now a new partnership is being discussed to facilitate post-graduate studies for Egyptian students in the UK.

According to Bayley, who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly earlier this week, the NMF is an example of how the two countries can get things done when they decide to work together. Education, he said, is one of the most successful elements of bilateral cooperation. Administered at governmental and non-governmental levels, cooperation on education has secured thousands of opportunities for Egyptian students to access the British curricula, be it via UK-administered schools in Egypt and schools that work with the curricula, or universities, whether in the UK or via universities in Egypt that have partnered with British counterparts.

For years, Bayley said Egypt has been “one of the top 10” countries in the UK’s flagship Chevening scholarship programme. It has allowed over 1,300 Egyptian students to complete graduate studies in the UK in the discipline of their choice. Currently, more than 30 students are being selected to start the academic year in the autumn. New initiatives have also been introduced, including science, technology, engineering, and mathematics scholarships that will allow women students to pursue degrees in the UK. The deadline for applications is at the end of this month.

A UK-funded scheme, in cooperation with both the Ministry of Higher Education and Research and the International Labor Organisation (ILO), offers career support training for university graduates to help match their degrees with the job market. The three partners celebrated the launch of the strategic collaboration on the Higher Education for Career Guidance and Employability Programme in February. With UK-provided funding of £2 million, the programme focuses on developing skills, career guidance accessibility and employability in Egypt.

During the ceremony, partners took turn to highlight aspects of the project, including the setting up of a pilot Career Management Platform at Ain Shams University on which more than 500 employers posted graduate job vacancies. According to Bayley, the sustainable model has proved “very successful” in helping graduates find jobs and plans are afoot to role out the scheme to six additional public universities.

Despite this progress, cooperation on education is far from taking the lion’s share of Egypt-UK cooperation. That, says Bayley, goes to development and green investment.

Bayley took up his post in Cairo in September 2021, a month before the November inauguration of COP26 in his hometown of Glasgow. The environment was, he noted, always an important element of his posting as ambassador to Egypt, first because the UK was hosting COP, and then because handed over the presidency of COP27 to Egypt.

Development, especially on “the green front”, is something “that really matters for both of us”, Bayley says. He stresses the $700 million of development support that the UK offers, either through British International Investment, the UK’s development finance institution, or through international partners, to work on everything from green hydrogen, solar and wind energy to desalination.

Agriculture has also climbed the agenda of bilateral cooperation, according to Bayley, at a time when Egypt is trying to upgrade and maximise its wheat harvest and storage of strategic reserves of the cereal. Water use and re-use, especially for the purposes of agriculture, is also becoming a key element of development cooperation.

As Ethiopia prepares for a fourth filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in July, Bayley stressed how the UK had joined other members of the UN Security Council in calling on Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan to reach an agreement compatible with “the vital interests of the three countries”. The UK, he said, supports collective regional efforts to guarantee that water resources are managed in a way that ensures their long-term sustainable use for all parties.

On Sudan, Bayley asserted that the UK is closely coordinating with Egypt despite the fact it is not member of QUAD, the four-way diplomatic mechanism that brings together the UK, US, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. London regularly consults with Cairo on Sudan, he said, reeling off a list of visits to Cairo by concerned UK officials during the past month. He declined, however, to comment on possible scenarios in Egypt’s conflict-torn southern neighbour beyond noting that “there is a political process to support” and eventually “a compromise will be reached.”

Bayley was equally reserved in his take on the prospects of an eventual end to the ongoing conflict in Yemen following the recent rapprochement between Riyadh and Tehran. He noted that the truce currently in place “is still holding” and that while the Iranian-Saudi détente “improves the chances for peace… a Yemeni-Yemeni dialogue is crucial” for stability.

Stability in Sudan and Yemen is essential to the security and stability of the Red Sea zone which Bayley identified as an area of joint Egyptian-British attention. Egypt and Britain are currently chair and deputy chair of the Combined Task Force 153, established last year to combat maritime security threats and provide capacity building in the Red Sea, Bab Al-Mandab and the Gulf of Aden. Bayley acknowledged Egyptian naval capabilities, especially with the inauguration of the Barnis military base, as important in maintaining Red Sea security.

 Egypt and the UK also coordinate over security in Libya and the overall Sahel and Sahara zone. “We recognise Egypt’s fundamental interest in Libya,” said Bayley, “and pay tribute to Egypt’s facilitation” of talks between Libya’s High Council of State and Presidential Council. He also argued that the work Egypt is doing to encourage an agreement in Libya is generally compatible with the work of the new UN Secretary-General Envoy to Libya Abdoulaye Bathily, who started his mission last autumn.

Though loath to make any forecasts, Bayley said he felt a glimmer of optimism over the prospects for stability in Libya which he attributed, at least partially, to the rapprochement between Egypt and Turkey. And when stability in Libya is secured, it will help decrease the sense of unease across the Sahel and Sahara zone which has been exacerbated by the presence of the Wagner Russian paramilitary organisation which is “recognised as a problem by a lot of people”, especially given its involvement in “trafficking” in this part of the world.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 6 April, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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