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Extract from IN Dip 26 - Egypt Amb Interview

Extract from IN Dip 26 - Egypt Amb

IN Diplomacy Issue 26 31 March 2017 New Ambassadors HE Mohamed Abulkheir Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt ND: You bring a wealth of experience and with you in charge. How is the status of Singapore - Egypt relations as of now and where you would like to bring it to in the next few years? MA: The relations are very warm especially between people-to-people and government-togovernment fronts. There is a great potential to translate these warm relationships to something more concrete on the ground. Things are happening but there is potential for so much more. In 2015, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was on a very successful visit to Singapore that brought relations to a new level. There was greater cooperation in different fields and the momentum was further energised by the visit of President Tony Tan to Egypt in 2016. Both our respective ambassadors have been working very hard to capitalise on those visits. The potential is there in the private sector for investments and economic cooperation especially opportunities in the Suez Canal Economic Zone. We have passed new investment laws giving it more independence and fast tracking of projects and incentives for investments. The Zone benefits from its unique geographic location and businesses can benefit from Egypt’s free trade agreements such as COMESA (the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa), AGADIR and the EU. It has been about five months since the 50-year old career diplomat has settled down in Singapore. It has been a smooth transition for HE Mohamed Abulkhier who has more than a passing resemblance to Daniel Craig, the actor who is the current star of the James Bond films fame. Indeed, we found the Egyptian diplomat’s demeanour to be just as suave and he was as dapper, in an immaculate suit, as the screen British spy, along with a playful hint of humour in his eyes. Start in diplomacy “My father is a retired ambassador and together with my late mother they had been trying to convince me to join the Foreign Service since high school. Right up till my first year in university (where I majored in economics) I was against it. Partly it is a reaction to the lifestyle I underwent travelling with them round the world. But apparently something resonated very deep inside me about diplomacy when my Cairo University colleagues who studied economics with me convinced me to go into Foreign Service. They had graduated and experienced first hand working in the Foreign Service themselves.” “When I joined, as they say, I landed running. Everything I had absorbed from my family life, from my father, was called into play as my first posting was in Tunisia from 1992 to 1996. It was a very, very interesting time to be there as the Olso Accords were being worked out, I witnessed the whole negotiations from Tunisia where the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was based until the Palestinians moved from there to the Occupied Territories in Palestine. After that I went back to Cairo, to the European Sector for two years.” His work then included overseeing the whole relationship with Europe and the security organisations there such as NATO. Following that he was posted to Washington DC from 1998 to 2003. “Washington was another very rich experience as I came when President Bill Clinton was being impeached, then the 2000 presidential election controversy between Al Gore and George W Bush, then there was 9/11... So they were interesting times especially since I was handling congressional affairs on the House side - basically lobbying US Congress promoting and defending Egypt’s interests. After that I went back to Cairo for three years serving in the Foreign Minister’s Office handling US-Egyptian affairs during rather challenging times as we had issues with the US administration at that time.” Then he went to Geneva for four years (2006 -2010) practicing “multi-lateral diplomacy” taking part in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Doha Round negotiations. He smiled recalling that period and explained, “You might say multilateral diplomacy such as this has its own charms and adrenalin rush. But you work so hard for so many years and sometimes the advancement is (he opens a one-inch space between his thumb and index finger) that big.” On the whole though looking back, he considers himself very fortunate to have served in the Foreign Ministry’s top bi-lateral and multi-lateral posts. Richer (in experience) and more interesting postings were in store ahead in his career as his next foreign posting was as Deputy Ambassador of the Egyptian embassy in Rabat, Morocco for three years. “The embassy was very active with a high level of bilateral relations and there were many delegations coming and going.” The stint contributed greatly to his career. He returned to Cairo spending two years there before coming to Singapore. “The first year in 2014 as Deputy Assistant Foreign Minister in charge of Arab Mashreq Affairs basically overseeing four countries: Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. That was quite intense. The second year I was Deputy Assistant Foreign Minister for UN Specialised Agencies (such as UNESCO, ILO, WHO etc). It was back to multilateral diplomacy. I was at first a bit hesitant but I was persuaded by the Assistant Minister of Multi-lateral Affairs and it proved to be quite a rich experience. 4 ND: Let’s talk about investments… MA: Yes, there’s a lot of interest from here in Egypt… not for activities in Egypt alone but also the region from an Egypt based presence. The Egyptian market is a big potential …Egyptians are great consumers of everything…. So the private sector relationship is definitely going to be based on mutual gains. It’s always going to be a win-win situation. The potential that Egypt has as an Egyptian market and in the Suez Canal Zone is immense for Singaporean companies… especially now, at a time when there is some kind of uncertainty visa-vis the world economy. While bearing in mind that Singaporean companies always prefer their own region because they know the culture…the people…the laws.. they know everything about it), Egypt for Singapore is not a risk….but a new market with new laws…a new culture…new people with a great potential. It’s not easy, but now since Singaporean companies are looking more and more at Egypt it is a great achievement, especially in light of the success stories achieved thus far by companies like OLAM in Agriculture and PIL in logistics and others… and here we are working hard to connect them to companies there, whether it is for trade or investment or even co-operation in something like education. ND: What is happening on the education front? MA: There is the Government-to-Government

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