Friday,26 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1409, (13-19 September 2018)
Friday,26 April, 2019
Issue 1409, (13-19 September 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Strengthening Mediterranean ties

Gamal Essam El-Din reports on parliamentary links between Egypt, Cyprus, Italy and France


An eight-member delegation of MPs headed by Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal visited Cyprus this week. The visit, the first of its kind in five decades, reflects the growing political and economic ties between the two countries.

Since coming to office in 2014, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has been keen to strengthen Egypt’s relations with Cyprus, Greece, Italy and France, says Talaat Al-Sewidi, head of parliament’s Energy Committee and a member of the delegation.

Expanding interests in natural oil exploration in the Mediterranean between Egypt and Cyprus have drawn the two countries closer, says Tarek Radwan, head of parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee and also a member of the delegation.

Ankara’s hostility to the regime of President Al-Sisi and to Greek Cyprus has led Egypt, Cyprus and Greece to form an “economic and military alliance”, argues Radwan.

Egypt, Cyprus and Greece have held several summits since 2014 and taken part in joint military exercises. Egypt and Cyprus have also signed a historic agreement demarcating their maritime borders and a protocol on cooperation over energy and natural gas exploration.

In a press conference following his meeting with his Cypriot counterpart Demteris Syllouris Abdel-Aal said Egypt is committed to Cypriot independence.
“We fully condemn foreign interference — particularly from Turkey — in the internal affairs of Cyprus,” said Abdel-Aal.

“Egypt is committed to strengthening relations with both Cyprus and Greece.”

Cyprus has full rights to exploit natural resources in the Mediterranean as long as they are within its internationally recognised borders, said Abdel-Aal, adding Cairo “strongly condemns Turkey’s aggressive and provocative policies which aim to prevent Cyprus from tapping its natural resources in the Mediterranean”.

Syllouris said he appreciated Egypt’s rejection of Turkish intervention in Cypriot affairs. Both countries agreed that an Egyptian-Cypriot parliamentary friendship association should be set up to promote cooperation on the economic, political and parliamentary level.

On Tuesday Abdel-Aal met with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and with the Cypriot ministers of tourism, energy and foreign affairs.

Last week parliament’s Secretary-General Ahmed Saadeddin met with Giampaolo Cantini, Italy’s ambassador to Egypt, to discuss preparations for the visit of Roberto Fico, the speaker of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies, to Egypt this month. Fico, a member of the Five Star Movement, was elected speaker of Italy’s lower house of parliament following general elections in March.

A press statement said Saadeddin and Cantini had discussed the preparations for Fico’s visit to Cairo, scheduled for the second half of this month.

Fico chose Egypt to be the first country outside Europe to visit following the conclusion of Italian parliamentary elections held last March, said the statement.
The speaker’s visit will be the third such by a high-ranking Italian official to Egypt in a month.

Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi visited Cairo in August, the first trip by a senior Italian official since the death of Italian student Giulio Regeni in January 2016. At the end of August Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio came to Cairo to hold economic talks with Egyptian officials.

The arrival of the parliamentary speaker so soon after Di Maio signals that relations between Egypt and Italy are fast improving, says Radwan.

“Ties between the two Mediterranean countries are recovering from the strain that followed the death of Italian student Giulio Regeni and are now back on a sound track.”

In a statement following his meeting with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli, Di Maio told the media on 29 August that “Egyptian-Italian relations are deep and historic, and Italy has sincere intentions to boost ties with Egypt in all fields.”

Di Maio added Rome hoped for a breakthrough by the end of this year in investigation into the abduction and torture of Regeni in Cairo in January 2016.

Regeni disappeared on 25 January while conducting postgraduate research on trade unions in Egypt. His body was discovered on 3 February with signs of extensive torture.

Egypt’s presidential spokesman confirmed in a statement on 29 August that Al-Sisi said during the meeting he is “confident Egypt and Italy will reach the final results into the investigation into the killing [of Regeni] in light of the strong will on both sides to find the murderers and bring them to justice”.

After his meeting with Al-Sisi, Di Maio said both sides agreed the truth of Regeni’s death should be established “as soon as possible”.

Radwan argues the flurry of visits of senior Italian officials to Cairo and recent boosts to economic relations reflect a growing recognition in Rome that Egypt is doing its best to uncover the truth about Regeni’s murder.

Radwan also says Italian officials are increasingly aware of the importance of Egypt as an active business partner, its role in fighting terrorism and illegal migration and in ensuring security and stability in Libya. He expects talks between Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal and his Italian counterpart will focus on economic relations and the legislation necessary to stem the tide of illegal migration across the Mediterranean.

Abdel-Aal met with Fico in Rome in July and invited him to visit Egypt for talks in combating terrorism and illegal migration and promoting investment and trade, said Radwan.

Radwan also told reporters that a parliamentary delegation, led by Speaker Abdel-Aal, will pay a visit to France next month.

“Speaker Abdel-Aal received an invitation from his French counterpart and is expected to visit Paris before Egypt’s new parliamentary session begins in the second week of next October,” said Radwan.

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