Egypt and Cyprus: Strategic partners

Eman Youssef, Tuesday 19 Mar 2024

Cyprus is one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the new enhanced Strategic Partnership between the EU and Egypt, President of Cyprus Nikos Christodoulides tells Eman Youssef

Christodoulides

 

 

In Cairo at the weekend for the signature of a Strategic Partnership Agreement between Egypt and the EU, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides joined European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Prime Minister of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer and the Prime Ministers of Belgium, Alexander De Croo, and Italy, Giorgia Meloni, at a high-level meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to usher in the new agreement.

In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, he explains why Cyprus is lending its enthusiastic support to the new Strategic Partnership against the background of already excellent Egyptian-Cypriot relations.

 

How do you evaluate Egyptian-Cypriot relations? Are there plans to boost relations in various fields?

Cyprus and Egypt not only have excellent relations, but they are also strategic partners. They have a close cooperative relationship and common objectives, striving to ensure security and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean based on the principles of international law and sovereign equality. This relationship has been evolving since antiquity and is solidified in all aspects, both at an institutional and a popular level.

Our aim is to maintain and enhance, in any way possible, the strong political and security cooperation we have, to further operationalise our cooperation in the energy field, and to boost our economic relations with increased tourism, trade, and investments. We can do more by way of cultural exchanges, educational cooperation, and labour market interactions. Following my three visits to Egypt during 2023, I look forward to the 2nd Cyprus-Egypt Government to Government (G2G) Summit meeting, anticipated for 2024, to enhance our bilateral relations across the board.

 

What joint projects are underway?

There are always new agreements under discussion and prospects for new joint projects. One of the most tangible fields we are looking to enhance cooperation in is that of human resources, where Egypt has much to offer due to its young and dynamic workforce. Several other agreements, both bilateral and trilateral, are under discussion with a view to being concluded at the next bilateral G2G Summit and the next trilateral summit, respectively.

The East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF), founded as a result of an Egyptian initiative, is a valuable tool for regional energy cooperation among states that want to cooperate on equal terms based on mutual respect and adhering to international law with the common objective of seeing our people prosper and our region emerge as an energy hub.

Sharing its logic and purpose, Cyprus has supported the forum since its inception and held its presidency in 2022. During this time, the forum established a Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee, whose role will be to provide scientific and technical expertise, including on decarbonisation and climate change mitigation. We are pleased to see the EMGF continue to build its institutional capacity.

Of course, cooperation within the EMGF is over and above the bilateral energy cooperation existing between Cyprus and Egypt, which is maintained by frequent exchanges at the highest political level, as well as the technical level, towards meeting the same goals. Cyprus and Egypt signed an agreement in 2019 for the construction of a submarine pipeline to transport natural gas from Cyprus to Egypt using the latter’s existing infrastructure for liquefication and re-export. This option continues to have precedence as the preferred course of action, both politically and commercially.

The trilateral cooperation between Cyprus, Egypt, and Greece reflects a strategic alliance in the service of our common priority of seeing peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean. It was the first trilateral formation to be established in the region, being the natural consequence of the good neighbourly relations between three countries seeking to institutionalise their cooperation for the benefit of the entire region.

This format has proven itself as an example of a mechanism that can further cooperate and bring regional partners closer. We hope to take stock of the strategic value of this tool and discuss how to utilise it further, in line with our shared objectives, at the next summit meeting, expected to take place in 2024.

The NOSTOS Programme was also launched within the trilateral cooperation framework between Cyprus, Egypt, and Greece, in order to encourage the Greek and Cypriot communities who lived in Egypt in the past to renew their ties with the country. Under the umbrella of the “Return to Roots” Initiative, the NOSTOS Programme was launched in Alexandria in May 2018. A number of Cypriots and Greeks of Egyptian origin returned to Egypt and, following the success of their visit, the NOSTOS II meeting took place in London in October 2018, NOSTOS III in Melbourne in March 2019, and NOSTOS IV in Egypt, Greece, and Cyprus between July and August 2021, where the emphasis was placed on the active participation of the youth Diaspora of the three countries.

Currently, Cyprus, Egypt, and Greece are in consultation to organise the next edition of NOSTOS. The Cypriot community in Egypt was initially formed in 1861.

 

What message do you have for Egypt and Cyprus regarding bilateral cooperation?

Cyprus considers Egypt to be indispensable, both as a bilateral partner, but also in our immediate region, as well as in the broader Middle East and Africa. Our bilateral cooperation has evolved substantially over the past decade, and we need to preserve this momentum, as we are convinced that Cyprus-Egypt relations still have much untapped potential. We always need to reach beyond what we have already achieved, and we need to stay focused on the strategic character of our partnership, without letting it become affected or determined by any factor other than the mutual interest of our two countries.  

 

What is the role of bilateral cooperation in regional stability?

Any cooperation helps produce stability, provided it is done to the benefit of both parties based on a clear and fair framework that reflects established norms. Cyprus-Egypt relations are living proof of this, and their example could be extrapolated to serve our region more broadly. We firmly believe that Egypt is a bedrock of stability in a volatile part of the world and that the security of Cyprus and Egypt are inextricably linked.

Cyprus seeks to bring Europe closer to Egypt and Egypt closer to Europe. No power today has any doubts about the systemic strategic importance of Egypt as a security pillar and a cooperative international partner. Our bilateral relations will continue to reflect and to develop through this perspective, and we consider ourselves fortunate to have as a major neighbour a country that values universal norms and respects those around it as equals.

 

What measures have been taken regarding international migration and the refugee crises?

Cyprus is facing the greatest migration problem amongst the EU member states. Specifically, approximately 5.5 per cent of the population, four times higher than the EU average, are new asylum applicants or international protection holders.

During the last 11 months, we have been implementing a new approach to address the migration crisis. Our policy is based on four pillars, which include reducing arrivals, upgrading infrastructure, accelerating application procedures and increasing returns. During this period, we have taken a number of measures to better deal with the problem. We have doubled the number of case examiners, thus succeeding in reducing the time needed for a case to be concluded, increased the number of decisions, limited the access to the labour market, and intensively promoted the voluntary return programme with financial incentives.

These measures have resulted in a decrease in the number of arrivals and applications. Specifically, there was a major trend regarding the arrivals of migrants compared to 2022. In 2023, the total number of new asylum applications dropped by 46 per cent compared to 2022, while the number of arrivals of migrants from African countries was reduced by 72 per cent. Finally, the number of returns was significantly increased to 66 per cent.

For the first time, we have a positive rate in terms of people leaving Cyprus in comparison to those arriving on the island. The fact that during 2023 we had a 116 per cent return-arrival rate is remarkable, especially taking into consideration the situation in the rest of Europe. As the data show, in January 2024 the return-arrival rate reached 138 per cent, ranking Cyprus first among the EU member states.

However, I cannot but express our great concern as regards the unprecedently large migration flows arriving from Syria. Due to its geographical proximity to this country, Cyprus is exposed to disproportionately large numbers of illegal migrants arriving from the area, which puts pressure on our reception system and makes economic and social integration difficult. In this regard, our efforts are now focused on the re-evaluation by the EU collectively of the state of affairs in Syria, or at least of specific areas in the country, based on existing realities and the evaluation of the EU Asylum Agency.

In close collaboration with the European Commission, we also aim to enhance the presence of Europol in the Eastern Mediterranean, so as to better fight migrant smuggling. We strongly believe that cooperation between Europol, the Cyprus Police, and the Lebanese Authorities is essential on this point, especially taking into consideration the geopolitical developments in our region.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 21 March, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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