By Dr Andrestinos Papadopoulos
That Cyprus-Egypt relations are presently at their highest level is an evaluation that represents an undisputable reality.
We should go back to ancient times to trace the relations between Cyprus and Egypt of the Pharaohs. The Greek historian Herodotus mentions in his second Book of the Histories that Pharaoh Amasis was the first man to seize Cyprus and compel the island to pay tribute. However, another story contained in the correspondence of Pharaoh Akhenaten with the Cypriot King of Alasia tells us that the tribute paid was a gesture of gratitude to the Egyptians for the defeat of Hyksos, which allowed the Cypriots to continue their commercial activities in the region.
Fast forward to Cyprus’ independence in 1960 and the strong friendship between Archbishop Makarios and President Nasser created the climate which has nourished the sincere friendship and understanding between our two peoples ever since.
The two countries have developed a network of cooperation in a variety of fields. First and foremost comes energy which has acted as a catalyst. The newly discovered gasfields in the Cypriot EEZ have recently acquired major importance, in view of the consequences of the war in Ukraine, which Europe had to face. It is, therefore, imperative that the Cypriot energy potential be linked to that of Egypt before being re-exported to Europe. It augers well that an agreement has been signed between Cyprus and Egypt to connect “Aphrodite”, the biggest Cyprus gasfield, with Egyptian liquefaction plants.
Moreover, the signing of the memorandum between Cyprus, Egypt and Greece for an electricity connection project holds great potential for connecting the electricity grids not only of the three signatories, but also of both continents together, thus diversifying their energy mix, and enhancing Europe’s energy independence. Extremely useful is also the fact that in 2019 Egypt partnered with regional countries (Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Jordan and Palestine) the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) with headquarters in Cairo. This forum brings together governments the private sector and financial institutions to discuss the formation of a competitive regional gas market.
Urgent problems caused by the climate change gave another opportunity for cooperation between Cyprus and Egypt with a view to elevating their national priorities to the regional and international level. Recently, during COP27 , the presidents of Cyprus and Egypt co-chaired the summit to present the Cyprus-led Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East climate change initiative. Only through cooperation can the implementation of its recommendations be realised.
To complete the picture of cooperation between the two countries mention should be made of the cooperation in the field of defence, through the participation in common military exercises, at the bilateral as well as the trilateral level, the exchange of high level military visits and the signing of cooperation agreements. Moreover, there is a high potential of economic cooperation, based on the existence of a wide range of possibilities in the fields of commerce and investment .
In general, within the wider framework of the Eastern Mediterranean, the role of Egypt is of paramount importance in view of the recent challenges and developments in the region. On the one hand, we have Egypt heavily involved in the efforts to secure regional peace and security, through the maintaining principles of international law. Best examples are the trilateral cooperation agreement of Cyprus, Greece and Egypt and the two other agreements signed between Greece and Egypt. The first, the maritime treaty creating an exclusive economic zone for oil and gas drilling rights in the Mediterranean sea, was signed in Cairo on August 6, 2020, as a response to the illegal Libya (GNA)–Turkey maritime deal. The second is the most recent and concerns search and rescue as a move to increase bilateral cooperation.
Moreover, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in a statement to Al Arabiya on October 30 confirmed that dialogue between Egypt and Turkey to normalise their ties has come to an end as Turkish practices in the conflict-torn Libya remain unchanged.
On the other hand, we have Turkey with her Neo-Ottoman aspirations menacing Greece, occupying Cyprus, striking Syria and Iraq, exploiting the illegal Libya (GNA)-Turkey maritime deal and promoting Russia’s interests in the region. This is despite Turkey being a Nato member and not applying sanctions against Russia and her allies. In a hypocritical gambit, after negatively criticising the leaders of Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE for nine years, President Erdogan decided lately to make a diplomatic U-turn with a view to normalising relations with the governments of those countries.
Regardless of what happened on that front, Cyprus-Egypt relations are flourishing and will continue to strengthen.
Now that Turkey is taking increasingly provocative steps against Cyprus our divided island is in need of partners with principled commitments more than ever. Cairo’s stance and policies of rejection of the occupation, insistence on peaceful negotiated solutions, a clear refusal to the imposition of fait accomplis that disregard international law and Security Council resolutions are hallmarks of a partner that shares Cyprus’ vision of a viable solution of the Cyprus problem, unifying the country.
The conclusion is easily reached that Cyprus stands a lot to gain from investing in its strategic partnership with Egypt. Such a partnership will certainly be a contribution of value to the stability of the Eastern Mediterranean to the benefit of the region, Europe and the world at large.
Andrestinos Papadopoulos is a former ambassador of the Republic of Cyprus