Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1255, (23 - 29 July 2015)
Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Issue 1255, (23 - 29 July 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Building Egyptian-Slovenian ties

One of the constituent republics of the former Yugoslavia until the country’s break-up in 1991, Slovenia is keen to build closer relations with Egypt, Slovenian Ambassador to Cairo Tania Miskova tells Aisha Abdel-Ghaffar

Al-Ahram Weekly

How would you evaluate bilateral relations between Egypt and Slovenia?

Relations between Slovenia and Egypt have traditionally been good and friendly. Since Slovenia’s independence in 1991 the two countries have developed regular political dialogue at all levels and good cooperation in the fields of economy, science, education, culture, health and agriculture.

Between 2011 and 2013 there was a downturn due to the situation in Egypt and the economic crisis in Slovenia. In 2014 these negative trends reversed, and we are today seeing renewed interest in cooperation in different fields.

We have seen growing interest from the Slovenian business community in doing business here. Slovenian artists are again looking forward to performing in Egypt. Slovenian tourists are coming back.

We are working on programmes of capacity building in the fields of environment and health. There is great scope for cooperation in many different fields, but we are trying to focus on those that can contribute most in terms of added value.

As a former diplomat to Israel, are you optimistic about the peace process in the Middle East and the efforts being made?

One should never give up hope of finding a peaceful solution to this conflict that has remained unresolved for much too long. It is of crucial importance for the long-term stability of the region. Given the circumstances on the ground, particularly the expansion of the Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories and the ongoing Palestinian divisions, it is difficult to be optimistic.

The international community should give a strong final push towards achieving a negotiated political solution in the form of two states, Israel and Palestine. The endless management of the conflict is no longer sustainable.

How do you see the initiative of France and the European Union towards peace in the Middle East?

The European Union has a long-established and principled position on the two-state solution, and the French proposal for a UN Security Council resolution on the parameters of the solution is in line with this position. Slovenia fully supports the French proposal. We believe that the Security Council should take primary responsibility and contribute to resolving the conflict once and for all.

How much is Slovenia integrated into the European Union in the political, economic and cultural fields?

Slovenia joined the European Union in 2004, the first country out of the former Yugoslav republics to do so. This had been our goal since independence in 1991 and had provided a strong motor for our transition and reform process. We joined the Eurozone in 2007, deepening our integration into the European economy.

We are also part of the Schengen area. Although this integration has meant transferring parts of our sovereignty to the EU, the people of Slovenia never second-guessed the decision to join. We see the EU as a family to which we undoubtedly belong, be it politically, economically, culturally or socially. We believe that being a part of this joint community, based on common goals and values, makes us stronger.

Can you tell us something about the historical relations between Egypt and the former Yugoslavia and especially Slovenia?

Egypt had very strong relations with the former Yugoslavia, stemming from the close ties between the two presidents, Tito and Nasser. Both countries were strong proponents of the Non-Aligned Movement. Yugoslavia offered hundreds of scholarships to Egyptian students, and many of them married and stayed in Yugoslavia, while others brought their Yugoslav wives to Egypt. This helped to make people-to-people ties even stronger.

In the case of Slovenia, these personal ties go back much further. The Slovenian architect Anton Lasciak designed some of the finest edifices in Cairo. At the turn of the past century, hundreds of Slovenians came to Egypt, particularly to Alexandria, to earn their living and help support their families back home.

The nanny of former Egyptian foreign minister and UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros Ghali was Slovenian. Some of the descendants of these people still live in Egypt today. Recently, they decided to establish an Association of Slovenes in Egypt with the aim of preserving the Slovenian heritage and promoting intercultural and people-to-people ties between the countries.

We are looking forward to receiving former president of Slovenia Danilo Türk in Egypt. What efforts are being made to support his candidature as the next secretary-general of the UN?

In January 2014 the government of Slovenia decided to support the candidature of former president of Slovenia Danilo Türk for the post of secretary-general of the UN. The appointment is due in 2016. The group of Eastern European States is the only regional electoral group in the UN that has not yet contributed a secretary-general. In discussions within the group, it was often suggested that Danilo Türk would be a credible candidate for the post.

A former president of Slovenia (2007-2012), Danilo Türk is a well-known political figure, as well as a diplomat and a scholar, and he has been engaged in various aspects of the work of the UN for more than three decades. He served on several UN expert bodies in the field of human rights in the 1980s and 1990s.

He was ambassador and permanent representative of Slovenia to the UN from 1992 to 2000. In the final two years of his tenure he represented Slovenia on the UN Security Council (1998-1999) and twice served as its president. Subsequently, in the years 2000-2005 he served as assistant secretary-general for political affairs on his appointment by the then secretary-general Kofi Annan.

The Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is lending its substantive assistance to Danilo Türk in further informal consultations. The ministry and the diplomatic representatives of Slovenia are facilitating, within regular diplomatic activities, further contacts with the representatives of other UN member states.

What are the views of Slovenia on the terrorism in our region and its impact on other countries?

Slovenia condemns terrorism in all its forms in the strongest possible terms. These heinous acts, which spare no victims, methods or means to achieve their goals, are equally tragic, regardless of which part of the world they target. There can never by any excuse or justification for terrorist acts.

We do not associate terrorism with any religion, race or belief. It is a common threat to us all. The international community must continue to stand together in unity and solidarity in the fight against terrorism.

Slovenia is part of the global coalition against Daesh [the Islamic State group]. Although not active in the military operations, we contribute in other fields, particularly in combating radicalisation and violent extremism. Among these efforts is the government’s support for the establishment of a Centre for Islamic, Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies under the auspices of the Slovenia-based Euro-Mediterranean University (EMUNI).

What are Slovenia’s views of the revolution that took place in Egypt in 2011 and the 30 June Movement?

In Slovenia, we view events in Egypt through the lens of our own transitional experience. Our aspiration for independence went hand in hand with our desire for economic freedom and respect for human rights. It was a process driven from within, which gave it legitimacy and exclusive ownership by the Slovenian people.

We know it is a decades-long and painful process. It requires changes to the constitution, legislation and institutions. But the most difficult requirement is changing mind-sets. Without transitional justice and national reconciliation the transition is never really over.

The Egyptians are among the most proud and patriotic people I know. When they went into the streets in January 2011 and June 2013, they did so to reclaim their country. It is a pleasure to meet young people who are extremely proud to have taken part in the revolution. Each revolution releases enormous amounts of energy and high expectations.

While not all of these expectations can be fulfilled, not meeting some of the most basic ones can lead to growing frustration and resentment. Egypt is a predominantly young country. This dynamic potential and energy needs to be channelled in a constructive manner for the benefit of the country’s future.

How can we promote commercial, economic and cultural relations with Slovenia?

Cooperation between Slovenia and Egypt has stagnated over the past four years due to turbulence in Egypt and an economic crisis in Slovenia. Both our economies started to recover last year, and we have seen growing Egyptian exports to Slovenia, for the first time in the last 24 years surpassing Slovenian exports to Egypt. We are actively exploring opportunities for participation in some of the mega-projects underway in Egypt.

I have seen growing interest among Slovenian companies in investing in Egypt and doing business here, especially after the March Sharm El-Sheikh Economic Development Conference. Once the solid legal framework guaranteed by a functioning parliament is in place, I am sure we will see more Slovenian companies coming to Egypt. Egypt is not only a huge market; it is also an ideal base for penetrating other regional markets.

The Egyptian embassy in Ljubljana has been very active in promoting Egyptian culture in Slovenia. As a result, Slovenians are now much better aware of its rich history and its music and folklore.

They are reading the works of novelists Naguib Mahfouz and Alaa Al-Aswani in Slovene translation, and Egyptian readers can enjoy reading the works of Slovene playwright Evald Flisar in Arabic. I also have plans to introduce Slovene singers and musicians to Egyptian audiences and to organise a photographic exhibition in Cairo.

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