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Together against crises
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 08 - 03 - 2016

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi received Iraqi President Fouad Masum on Monday 7 March in his first official visit to Egypt after an invitation extended by Al-Sisi. The two leaders held a bilateral meeting followed by expanded talks with the attendance of delegations from the two countries.
Masum was accompanied by a delegation which included Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, Agriculture Minister Hassan Zaidan and National Security Adviser Falih Al-Fayadh. During its three-day visit, the delegation met Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal and Al-Azhar's Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayeb.
The two countries have been pushing to bolster economic ties. They hope to increase trade which has been meager in comparison to Iraq's trade with neighbouring countries.
The volume of trade between the two countries amounted to some $400 million in 2015. Trade between Iraq and Iran has reached $15 billion.
Before the 1991 Gulf War the volume of trade between Iraq and Egypt was at its peak — $3 billion. There is potential to increase Egyptian exports to Iraq, especially food products, chemicals, textile and pharmaceuticals.
One of the main fields of cooperation is oil. Egypt's state-owned Petrojet is among many international energy companies which have found footholds in Iraq's lucrative market. Last year Petrojet was awarded a $185 million contract to build a gas-processing plant in Basra, in southern Iraq.
Tourism is another area which the two countries seek to improve. Last year the number of Iraqi tourists to Egypt increased after tens of thousands of Iraqis benefited from new touristic packages to Egypt. Iraq still hopes that Egypt will ease visa restrictions on Iraqis travelling to Egypt for business, study and medical treatment.
Al-Sisi underlined the “historic and distinctive relations” that bind the two countries and their people and emphasised Egypt's keenness to further enhance the ties at all political, economic and cultural levels. The president reiterated Egypt's support for Iraq's unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as efforts aimed at restoring security and stability in the country “in light of current challenges and attempts to foment division among the people of Iraq”.
The Iraqi president underscored the “deep and solid relations” between Egypt and Iraq and stressed the importance of promoting cooperation in various fields. He expressed his appreciation for Egypt's support for Iraq's stability as well as its efforts to address regional crises. “Egypt has a pivotal role and is a key cornerstone in promoting security, stability and solidarity in the Arab world,” Masum said.
Masum said he valued the national role of the Egyptian Armed Forces “which prevented the scourge of chaos and violence in Egypt, in addition to its continued efforts in combatting terrorism and confronting terrorist organisations”.
Egypt's presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef said Masum looked forward to put into play agreements signed with Egypt to boost cooperation and to take advantage of Egypt's expertise, particularly in industrial and agricultural fields. He said President Al-Sisi stated that Egypt welcomes cooperation with Iraq in all these fields, in addition to other sectors, including real estate and infrastructure.
The two presidents agreed to effectuate mechanisms for bilateral cooperation, particularly reviving a joint commission to be held in rotation between Cairo and Baghdad. Al-Sisi also noted during the meeting that Egypt had long warned of the consequences of the deteriorating situation in the region, stressing that early action should be taken.
The presidents discussed the latest developments in the Arab world. Al-Sisi underlined the importance of preserving the unity and sovereignty of Arab countries and reaching political solutions to crises in the region so as to enhance security and stability. He stressed the importance of uniting Arab ranks in addressing the threats that face Arab countries. Masum affirmed Iraq's Arab identity and its keenness to enhance relations with all Arab countries.
Youssef said the leaders agreed on exerting their utmost efforts to accomplish the best interests of the Arab and Muslim worlds, realise the dream of integration and solidarity, and promote joint Arab action. “Both leaders also discussed efforts to disseminate the moderate and true nature of Islam, which renounces violence, extremism and terrorism, and rectify the distorted image of Islam that is mistakenly associated with terrorism and violence.”
Iraq's Ambassador to Cairo Diaa Al-Dabbas said Masum's visit to Egypt came after trips to Egypt made by Iraq's ministers of defence and commerce in the past few months. Al-Dabbas said he believed that the relationship between Iraq and Egypt was the “core of the Arab nation.
“It encompasses the region's security and stability. The two brotherly countries' historical ties form a bridge based on strong partnership in all aspects which serve the interests of the two peoples and the Arab and Muslim world,” he said
Aliya Al-Mahdi, a professor of political science at Cairo University, said Al-Sisi was exerting “great effort to develop mutual relations between Egypt and other countries, not only Iraq, to enhance bilateral relations and serve the interests of the two peoples.
“Egypt is facing overwhelming challenges as that of terrorism as well as other several economic and political issues. The president is trying on both internal and external levels to overcome these challenges,” said Al-Mahdi.
Al-Mahdi said she believed the visit was extremely important for both countries “and comes at a sensitive time given the developments and challenges currently facing the Arab world. “Confronting challenges that pose a significant risk for the whole region requires more cooperation from both the Egyptian and Iraqi sides,” she said.


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