As we celebrate the centennial of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I am pleased to address readers of the Al-Siyassa Al-Dawliya quarterly. You are members of a conscientious intelligentsia whose awareness and discernment has brought you to this venerable academic edifice, which, since its establishment by the late Boutros Boutros Ghali in 1965, has been a font of serious and valuable views and analyses on regional and international developments and an ever-renewable tributary to the Egyptian school of political science whose excellence has earned it universal esteem.
Marking a hundred years since the reestablishment of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 15 March 1922 (the ministry had been abolished following the declaration of the British Protectorate over Egypt in 1914) is deeply significant because of its association with our country’s march towards national independence and the subsequent building of the Egyptian state through the efforts of its faithful citizens.
This centenary therefore invites us to recollect the ministry’s bright record of diplomatic achievements in our modern history and the challenges Egyptian diplomacy has faced with the utmost courage, armed with patriotic talents who defended Egypt’s interests and strove to restore Egypt’s authentic rights bravely, professionally and with indefatigable dedication.
Egyptian diplomacy has experienced moments of grief and joy as the pendulum has swung between war and peace during this past century. With its base in Cairo and its many missions, it has served as a bridge between our world at home and the world abroad in coordination with other government agencies and as an outspoken voice for Egypt in the forums of international organisations and decision-making centres in foreign capitals.
At every crucial juncture, Egyptian diplomacy has acted with the certainty that our country’s usurped rights must inevitably be restored in full. This was borne out in the fruits of the exhaustive diplomatic efforts that were made in the wake of the Tripartite Aggression of 1956 and, again, after the October 1973 War, culminating in the return of Taba where the successful assertion of our national will was symbolised by the proud and reverential raising of the Egyptian flag which we have vowed shall always flutter high and never bow.
Over recent decades, Egyptian diplomacy has also contributed to laying the foundations for international and regional stability. This, in turn, testifies to the sagacity of Egypt’s foreign policy outlook, which aims to pursue all available avenues towards the realisation of peace, security and prosperity for all nations and peoples.
Indeed, as we look back over the course of Egyptian foreign policy during the past century, we find that Cairo has consistently been a force for stability in its regional environment. Towards this end, it has engaged a balanced and ethical approach that rises above pettiness and opportunistic games in order to calm hotspots, defuse crises and lay the foundations for peace.
This history clearly reflects a number of other important points.
First, Egyptian diplomacy shows no lenience when it comes to Egypt’s rights. It accepts no halfway solutions, and it does not despair in the face of others’ intransigence and evasiveness or the indifference of the international community. It will persist in its efforts to restore those rights, head held high while exercising the necessary forbearance out of a belief in the justice of its causes and armed with the awareness of its political leadership and the solidarity of the domestic front.
Second, Egypt’s foreign policy adheres to consistent parameters that are based on the principles of diversifying its axes of movement, mutual respect and parity, non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other nations, and respect for its sovereignty and autonomous political will. Also crucial to these parameters are the policy’s alignment with the people’s choices and an emphasis on the cohesion of the national institutions of other states in order to ward off collapse and degeneration into vicious cycles of anarchy in their regions.
Third, during the past decades, Egyptian diplomacy has succeeded in accumulating a vast and growing reservoir of practical expertise in the diverse fields of diplomatic work in both its bilateral and multilateral dimensions and in its various specialised frameworks such as economic and development diplomacy or environment and climate-change diplomacy.
This cumulative expertise has helped to generate realistic and clearsighted outlooks on international concerns and how to handle them in a manner that observes the particular nature of each issue and the need to be flexible enough to adapt effectively to successive changes in the structure of the international community and its players. In this regard, Egyptian diplomacy has displayed the ability to anticipate pivotal events, reflecting its proficiency at strategic scenario methodology and planning.
Fourth, geographical and historical needs and considerations have determined the main spheres of action for Egyptian foreign policy. The main ones are the Arab and African spheres, as they are natural geopolitical extensions of Egypt and, accordingly, essential components of its national security framework.
Egypt’s concern for these two spheres is epitomised by the pioneering role it played in their national liberation movements and the limitless economic, political and moral support it gave to its Arab and African brothers in their struggles for self-determination. Other salient manifestations of this concern are to be found in Egypt’s hosting of the Arab League, its contribution to the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity, and its efforts to strengthen the efficacy of these regional organisations and the central role they and their subsidiary bodies play in reinforcing the bonds of Arab and African cooperation and integration.
Fifth, closely related to these spheres and crucial to the pillars of Egyptian foreign policy, the Islamic dimension has also figured prominently in our diplomacy in the light of Egypt’s extensive Islamic heritage and legacy. Egypt was a cofounder of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in 1969, and it has hosted a number of the OIC’s branches and agencies and worked to promote this organisation as a collective platform for advancing the causes of the Islamic world and a forum for voicing its problems and concerns.
More recently, Egypt launched its Mediterranean identity as a component of its foreign policy, promoting this shared identity among the countries along its shores with an eye to transforming this sea into a bond that draws on the long cultural and civilisational links between its peoples and on the diverse political and economic strengths of their countries, as opposed to a barrier to waves of political and cultural communication and exchange.
Sixth, although Egypt has continued to act in the framework of its traditional foreign policy spheres, given their integral relation to Egypt’s national security as mentioned above, this has not prevented Cairo from focusing on other spheres of action. Egyptian diplomacy has been active in diverse areas of international interplay to the east and west, strengthening its strategic partnerships with all major and emergent powers across the globe as it continues to build its diversified and growing network of relations.
The central purpose of this effort is to maximise Egypt’s interests with the key players in its spheres of activity, whether in North and South America, in Europe at the bilateral or European Union level, or in Asia where our foreign ties have grown by leaps and bounds during past years. Nothing better illustrates the foregoing than the free-trade agreement Cairo signed with Mercosur, one of the most important South American economic blocs, and Egypt’s membership as a dialogue partner in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Egypt was also among the founding members of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, provided its first secretary-general, and then hosted one of its subsidiary bodies, Senghor University, in Alexandria.
Seventh, Egypt’s soft power has been and remains a main and influential complementary component of its foreign policy. Egypt’s multifaceted cultural and civilisational legacy bring out the welcome mats in international domains, a phenomenon encouraged by the roles played by its renowned Al-Azhar Mosque and University and its ancient Coptic Church as bastions against fanaticism and ideological extremism and their disseminators.
Eighth, in recent years, Egypt has been able to harness all the capacities it has accumulated across the decades and to muster the comprehensive powers with which it is armed to expand its role and develop its efficacy in shaping regional issues. At the same time, it has been careful to avert unpredictable risks and to avoid being dragged into conflicts that only reopen wounds and fuel volatility in the region.
Egypt’s consulates and the services they provide to Egyptians abroad are another fundamental cornerstone of the Foreign Ministry’s diplomatic work. In this respect, on top of the customary services the ministry provides to its citizens abroad, our political leadership has taken pains to ensure the mechanisms are in place to reach our people abroad in times of trouble, to evacuate them from areas of upheaval and civil strife and to bring them safely home to Egypt. At the same time, the ministry is also keen to tap the experience and expertise its staff members have acquired during their postings abroad.
To our good fortune, our celebration of the centenary of the reestablishment of the Foreign Ministry in 1922 coincides with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s proclamation of the New Republic that marks the beginning of a new chapter in Egypt’s contemporary history. The birth of the New Republic is not just an articulation of the move from the centre of Cairo to the New Administrative Capital. It is also the culmination of hard and persistent work in the course of an authentically Egyptian national epic in which the Egyptian people defended their right to a homeland free from the predations of groups that sought in vain to hijack their fate and also endured considerable hardship for the sake of economic recovery and the restoration of order.
Throughout this process, they were fortified in their resolve by their confidence in the awareness of their political leadership and the sincerity of its intent to rebuild their state on solid national foundations. The New Republic is now reaping the fruits of these efforts, giving shape and direction to the nation’s comprehensive strengths, redefining its essential elements and orienting them towards the realisation of sustainable development and prosperity. Towards these ends, the political leadership has set in motion a nationwide process of comprehensive achievements, which all Egyptians can be proud of, in order to create a better future for coming generations and to ensure a dignified life for all Egyptians without discrimination.
The solid stability and comprehensive development Egypt is experiencing under the New Republic is reflected in its clearsighted foreign policy and in the confidence with which it acts at the international and regional levels concerning a part of the world that is teeming with upheaval, political turmoil and continued threats to its stability.
In the course of eight years of hard work and unswerving resolve, Egypt has succeeded in resuming its traditional role, which compels itself on Egypt as much as it is sought after. Thanks to the dedication and skill of its political leadership, Egypt has moved from the phase of recovering balance to that of regaining influence. As is now evident, Egypt has successfully repositioned itself as a key player in its regional environment, one with the wherewithal to set red lines that weave the mesh of a deterrent force with the ability to preserve equilibrium in the region and pull it back from the brink of anarchy.
As we stand on the threshold of the second century of Egyptian diplomacy, we observe an international arena in which patterns of interaction have grown extremely complex and non-state actors are playing an increasingly influential role. In addition to their repercussions in terms of steering international interplay away from conventional modes and concepts, these trends have had direct impacts on the domestic fronts of all countries.
Crucially in this context, Egyptian decision-making circles have kept their eyes on the train of developments in the international arena and, in the light of them, its diplomatic and other national agencies have collaborated to forge diverse measures designed to avert or contain detrimental impacts and repercussions, to safeguard the stays of Egyptian national security, and to preserve the identity of the Egyptian state.
The Foreign Ministry, which has been closely following such global trends, has worked to hone the capacities of its diplomatic corps. In particular, it has invested in its young diplomatic talents through ongoing in-house training and other capacity-building activities to equip them to respond rapidly and effectively to diverse changes and their manifestations and to develop action plans accordingly.
With such needs in mind, we are selecting and developing the new cohorts of our diplomatic corps in a manner consistent with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s vision for the New Republic, and we have stepped up the digital transformation of our work so that it can keep pace with all that is modern in today’s world.
In conclusion, I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation to all Egyptian diplomats – the pioneers, the older generation and the younger generation of men and women – on the occasion of their 100th anniversary. They are soldiers of the nation stationed on the foreign front, and I salute them for their contributions to building the edifice of Egyptian diplomacy generation after generation, solidifying it as a lofty and revered institution dedicated to the advancement of the interests of the nation and the service of its people.
To our veteran diplomats and ambassadorial past masters, I say that you are right to be proud to have represented Egypt abroad and to boast of the periods you have spent in the service of the nation and its dear people in various spots around the globe, including in some very trying and crisis-plagued areas. Regardless of the difficulties and challenges you encountered, you heeded the call to duty, fulfilled your promise and proved true to the oath you took when you joined the ministry, which was to keep our flag aloft on every front so that it could eternally embrace all citizens at home and abroad in the safety and comfort its shadow.
To my diplomatic colleagues still working in Egypt and elsewhere in the world I say that in you I see the hope of our nation and its progress. I trust in your noble patriotic sensibilities and the skills and talents that have so excellently qualified you for the honour of serving beneath the banner of this venerable national institution. Bear in mind the eternal ßdebt you owe to your country and the weighty duties that rest on your shoulders, though I am confident that you will spare no effort in performing them to the best of your abilities.
Read the history of Egypt, draw from this inexhaustible resource in your professional careers and arm yourself with the endless inspiration it offers, so that you can remain true to the trust vested in you as a shield for the nation overseas.
* This article originally appeared in the quarterly journal Al-Siyassa Al-Dawliya, published by Al-Ahram.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.