President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s recent two-day visit to Abu Dhabi to hold talks with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan was a testament to the brotherly relations between our two countries and peoples.
Our leaders are unfailingly hospitable to guests but the mutual warmth and respect exuded by the Egyptian President and the Crown Prince, who greeted each other like fast friends, was unmistakable. President el-Sisi has characterized the relationship as being “special” and, indeed, it is.
The President was visibly touched by the emotionally-charged assurances of a UAE military official Mohammed bin Salem Kurdous Al Ameri who attended the meeting.
“We are with you and we will sacrifice for Egypt. We are implementing the will of the late Emirati leader Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed to defend Egypt and sacrifice for it,” he said.
“We will sacrifice for you too,” replied the Egyptian leader who has repeatedly asserted that threats to the security of Arab Gulf States is for him “a red line”.
Besides the historical close ties established during the rule of the late Sheikh Zayed, since the destructive Brotherhood regime was ousted from Cairo in 2013, Egypt and the Emirates have formed an ironclad economic, diplomatic and strategic partnership based on shared regional interests and security concerns.
Prominent on the allies’ to-do list are combating terrorism and the malevolent influence of extremist ideologies. Deterring Iran and its new-found friend Qatar from destabilizing the Arab World and facilitating the political unification of Libya, where division and lawlessness are an invitation to terrorist entities fleeing Syria and Iraq, are high on their agenda.
When the chips were down, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait provided substantial financial support to keep the fragile Egyptian economy afloat while the US, the UK and the EU turned their backs.
The Egyptian government placed its trust in Emirati economic advisers and the country has benefited from hundreds of projects in the fields of transport, infrastructure, education and health completed under a UAE development assistance program pledged in 2014.
Today, the UAE’s investments in Egypt exceed $6bn. A new investment law allowing foreign investors to repatriate profits, convert Egyptian pounds into foreign currencies and benefit from tax-free incentives will encourage even greater direct investment.
Thankfully, Egypt’s economy is no longer in intensive care; its once depleted foreign reserves have risen to a healthy $36bn and revenues from tourism have increased 170 per cent during the first seven months of 2017 in comparison with the same period last year.
Following years of sporadic electricity blackouts, Egypt’s energy requirements will be secured for many years ahead when its ‘super giant’ offshore gas field begins production at the end of this year.
President el-Sisi’s economic reforms — the pound’s flotation, decreased subsidies and the imposition of VAT — are paying off and have been praised by International Monetary Fund and World Bank officials. I know that inflation is taking a heavy toll on some sectors of society and would emphasize that there is no gain without pain.
I can only urge the Egyptian people to exercise patience. The President is making provision for the needs of coming generations amid an expanding population set to reach 128 million by 2030.
The country’s new administrative capital city has been criticized in some quarters as being a grandiose waste of money. The critics are wrong. Cairo’s infrastructure is struggling to cope with the crowds as it is and parts of the city are brought to a standstill by endless traffic jams. The population needs to be dispersed to ensure a better quality of life for all.
Certain Western powers are not happy that the President is also shoring up his nation’s defences with weapons purchased from diverse countries. A cabal of US lawmakers who pushed for America’s latest suspension of military aid to Egypt allege that he is squandering his treasury’s finances.
In recent times Egypt has purchased four German-made submarines, 50 Russian MIG-29 fighter jets as well as 24 French-manufactured Rafale combat aircraft and a naval frigate. Naturally, the Egyptian government cannot rely on the United States for hardware when the Obama administration froze delivery of paid-for F16s and Apache helicopters.
Should he be blamed for strengthening Egypt’s military capabilities when Daesh and affiliated groups are operating out of the Sinai Peninsula and infiltrating Egypt across its north-western border? Should he be blamed when he has witnessed the tragic fate of Iraq, Syria and Libya, not to mention the fact that Cairo is a guarantor of the territorial integrity of its Gulf allies?
In July, President el-Sisi inaugurated the largest military base in the Middle East and Africa, accompanied by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince of Bahrain, the Emir of Mecca Prince Khalid Al Faisal and Kuwait’s Minister of Defence Sheikh Mohammed Al Khalid Al Hamad Al Sabah.
I commend him for his telescopic view in light of the multiple challenges our part of the world confronts and it is my greatest hope that Egypt, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain will forge an impenetrable bloc on all fronts — a single powerful body.
Such an entity will have to be constructed with the bricks of trust, cemented by complete transparency and loyalty. The foundations exist. All that is needed is a leap of faith.
I still remember fondly Egypt’s glory days when Alexandria rivalled cities on the French Riviera and Cairo was where luxury carmakers and fashion houses chose to launch their new models. That Egypt has disappeared into the mists of time, but if President el-Sisi has his way, this country that has stolen a piece of my heart will once again dazzle the world with its brilliance.
By Khalaf Al Habtoor – UAE Businessman