Egyptian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Afeefi Abdul Wahab, talked about the strong relations between the two countries in an exclusive interview with Nadim Al-Hamid of Arab News. While his priority is the welfare of the Egyptian community in the Kingdom, he said it is important to restore the confidence of the Saudi business community and encourage a return of investment
How do you see the Saudi-Egyptian relationship?
The relationship between the two countries is historical and strong. It is rooted in and based on mutual friendship and interests. It will stay steadfast as a strategic partnership for the benefit and interest of the people of our two countries and of the Arab and Islamic world. This should contribute to the peace and security of the region.
I would like to acknowledge the keenness of King Abdul Aziz, the founding father, to maintain strong relationship between our countries. This, in essence, is the cornerstone of Arab and regional regimes. The efforts of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah to reinforce the two countries’ relations are very much appreciated in Egypt. The Kingdom was the biggest supporter of our recent revolution and the first country to receive a visit from our elected president.
You recently assumed the role of ambassador, what are your priorities?
I had the honor of working in the Kingdom as an adviser in the Egyptian embassy in Riyadh and as a general consul in Jeddah. This allowed me to understand the needs of the Egyptian community here. My biggest priority is to work for the welfare of Egyptians and to reinforce historical and brotherly relations between the two countries.
Many Saudi businessmen and investors face difficulty and obstacles when establishing business ventures in Egypt. What solutions are you working on to solve these problems?
One of the most important issues I need to address is how to restore the confidence of the Saudi business community and encourage them to return to investing in Egypt. My government is taking steps to remove all obstacles and attract Arab investment, particularly from Saudi Arabia. In a recent visit to Egypt by Minister of Commerce and industry, Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, more than 50 Saudi business leaders who accompanied him had the opportunity to explore investment opportunities there. We endeavor to promote our mutual economic relations to the same level as our political and historic ones.
What was the volume of trade between the two countries last year?
Trade between the two countries totaled $ 5 billion in 2011, up from $ 1.3 billion in 2005.
How much does the Saudi business community invest in Egypt today and what sectors do they represent?
There are 2,268 Saudi investment projects with a capital of EGP 50. Saudi Arabia is the leader in Arab investments. On the flip side, there are huge Egyptian investments in Saudi Arabia worth $ 750 million, but joint Saudi-Egyptian investments total $ 1.5 billion.
The majority of Saudi investments in Egypt are concentrated in the tourism and hospitality sector. They are sound and working well, despite the decrease in the number of visitors. The Ministry of Tourism in Egypt expects a return to normal rates soon. A recent report by the Ministry showed the number of Saudi tourists to Egypt during September and October of this year increased by 70 percent.
You recently stated cooperation between Saudi and Egypt in the health sector will increase in the near future and involve knowledge-sharing and joint ventures in pharmaceuticals and health care facilities. What do you see happening in this field?
First, I would like to acknowledge that distinguished relations between the two countries do not only exist in matters of political, economic and healthcare, but also in culture, education and recreation. I recently had the honor of meeting the minister of health, Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, and we discussed increasing the number of Egyptian doctors working in the Kingdom in all areas of specialty. We also agreed to proceed with joint pharmaceutical ventures between the two countries.
What obstacles face Egyptians working in the Kingdom and in your opinion, what are the solutions?
There are reports of a decrease in the number of Egyptian workers here. This is not true. Other unfounded reports say the Kingdom will lay-off Egyptian workers. The Egyptian community in Saudi Arabia has increased steadily since the January revolution and the latest stats show there are more than 1.5 million Egyptians are employed here.
I would like to acknowledge the important role played by Egyptian workers who work side-by-side with their Saudi brothers to develop the Kingdom.
The Consulate General in Riyadh and Jeddah and the subsidiary workers union do their best to resolve any issues or obstacles that arise. In addition, issues are brought forth during my meetings with Saudi officials in the related ministries, in terms of employer-employee relationships or issues relating to criminal, security or educational problems and we work to resolve them in a brotherly manner.
Have visits between the two governments slowed recently?
Since the January revolution, mutual visits between officials of our two countries are on-going.
Prince Saud Al-Faisal, minister of Foreign Affairs to Cairo, has visited Egypt a number of times to attend bilateral or Arab League meetings. As I mentioned earlier, Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, minister of Commerce and Industry, led a delegation of business leaders and investors. There have been similar visits by ministers of Health, Haj, Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance, as well as other Saudis officials. President Mohammed Mursi visited the Kingdom in July and August in addition to two visits by Field Marshal Tantawi. Former Egyptian Prime Minister, Essam Sharaf, visited Riyadh with his ministers of Finance, Planning and Foreign Affairs. Mohammed Amr, minister of Foreign Affairs paid many visits to the Kingdom and Riyadh recently received the Egyptian minister of Health. The Saudi Health Minister reciprocated with a visit to Egypt in October of this year. The purpose of those mutual visits is to strengthen relations and promote cooperation in all aspects between the two countries.
What advice would you give to the Egyptian community in Saudi Arabia?
The Egyptian community is one of the largest Arab communities in the Kingdom and is welcomed and appreciated by their Saudi brothers. They represent varies fields of expertise and professional ability and contribute to supporting the Saudi and Egyptian economies. In addition, they represent a bridge linking our two countries and our people. The Egyptian community here is actually the largest gathering of Egyptians abroad. I would like to assure them their welfare and aspirations are my main concern. I ask them to be ambassadors of Egypt in their second home of Saudi Arabia. I also thank them for their nationalistic attitude to their motherland; the Egyptian community in Saudi Arabia achieved the largest contribution to the national economy of Egypt with remittances during the last year totaling 60 percent.