Since antiquity, Egypt and Greece have been enjoying strong bilateral relations dating back to 300 BC. The official diplomatic and economic relations between them began in 1833. There is a large Greek community living in Egypt, with a strong influence on the Egyptian economy. This has thus helped deepen historical, geographical and cultural ties between both countries. In addition, Egypt and Greece hold convergent views on various regional and international issues, and on the proposed strategies for dealing with developments in the region as well.
Egypt and Greece are linked by privileged economic relations that live up to a comprehensive strategic partnership. For Egypt, Greece is one of the most important trade partners in the Mediterranean Basin region and its gate to Balkan and East European countries; whereas for Greece, Egypt is the gate to African countries.
By the end of 2018, Greek investments in the Egyptian market reached USD 3 billion, which placed Greece in the fifth position among the EU investing countries in Egypt. The total number of Greek investment projects in Egypt reached 160 projects valued at USD 155 million.
These projects spread across various production and service sectors, top of which are chemical industries, textile industry, construction materials industry, food industry, trading and consultancy services, as well as transport and public services. Egypt is an important trade partner for Greece due to the established collaboration between Greece’s Port of Piraeus and the Suez Canal, aimed at promoting trade across the Mediterranean Basin.
Due to the trading volume between both countries, Egypt and Greece agreed to set up a joint working group in April 2019 to enhance economic cooperation between them during the next phase. This working group would identify the targeted sectors through collaboration between the Egyptian Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Greek Ministry of Economic Development. That is in order to develop a specific plan of action to reach concrete results positively impacting the economic relations between Egypt and Greece.
With regard to defending the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the Eastern Mediterranean, Egypt and Greece expressed their deep concern toward the current escalation within the maritime areas at the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea. They condemned Turkey’s continued actions in the EEZ and territorial waters of Cyprus, and called upon the international community to take more compatible procedures with the international law against all terrorist groups, regardless of their structures or ideologies, and to take concrete measures to ensure accountability for regional actors involved in financing terrorist groups.
Similarly, both sides affirmed the coherence among their common interests and positions in the Eastern Mediterranean; while stressing that the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) is one of the most important tools within that framework. This shall open up prospects for cooperation among EMGF member states in the field of oil and natural gas, and turn the underlying resources in the region into promising investment opportunities for the benefit of peoples and generations to come. In addition, the two countries reiterated their determination to continue mutual coordination of their positions and measures aimed to achieve security and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean through fighting terrorism. They also affirmed that priority should be given to regional cooperation and to the comprehensive economic development that all States of the region aspire to. In April 2020, both sides discussed ways to support the bilateral cooperation between them, in addition to attracting Greek companies to invest in exploration and production activities in Egypt in the natural gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Six summits were held during the period from 2014 to 2018, bringing together President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, with the Cypriot President and the Greek Prime Minister. The three leaders, during these summits, reaffirmed their intent to enhance fields of mutual cooperation between their countries—particularly energy field, and gas exploration and transit across the Mediterranean. Egypt and Greece signed a number of joint cooperation agreements across several fields such as trade and industry, which has helped enhance bilateral relations in various fields—in a way that serves both interests and promotes cooperation and exchange of visits at the highest levels. The Egyptian-Greek relations witnessed the signing of several agreements and memorandums of understanding covering various fields. The most important was the signing of a memorandum of understanding in the field of medium and small enterprises between both countries, believing in the significant role of these enterprises in achieving development and economic progress. A social insurance agreement was also signed to regulate the insurance entitlements of Egyptian workers during their service in Greece, thereby ensuring their full rights and entitlements upon returning home.
The last period also witnessed Egyptian-Greek collaboration and coordination in response to COVID-19. There has been an agreement on strengthening mutual cooperation in this respect through exchanging expertise and coordinating between involved bodies in both countries to achieve mutual benefit from expertise and practices in both countries. In addition, resuming the exchange of high-level official visits, once international flights return to normality, has been also discussed.
For cooperation in the field of tourism, Egypt and Greece enjoy strong relations, given that the inflow of Greek tourists to Egypt is estimated at an average of 44,000 tourists. Despite the widespread of COVID-19 pandemic, following the gradual opening of airports, they discussed methods of cooperation in regard to the arrangements and precautionary measures taken by both countries to receive tourists. Greece has also announced its preparedness to receive Egyptian tourists as of last July. Both countries discussed how to achieve integration in the field of tourism through a bilateral, strictly-regulated agreement between both countries to preserve the health of tourists as well as workers in the tourism sector, after the return of tourism movement to normality.
GREEK COMMUNITY AND THEIR ROLE IN EGYPTIAN ECONOMY
Greeks are the largest and most diverse foreign community in Egypt, with Greece being Egypt’s nearest European neighbor. The Greek community played a prominent role in the economic activities in Egypt and even in the formation of Egyptian identity, and thus became one of the most influential communities in in the Egyptian economy. Greeks joined many economic professions and activities in Egypt. Their presence in Alexandria, for example, is still apparent and distinct to this date. They excelled in several sectors such as agriculture, cotton trade, tobacco industry and grain production, in addition to working in the financial sector and in major economic and trade-related activities. Greeks are also who introduced to Egypt the starch and glucose industry in 1942.
CONVERGENCE OF VIEWS ON MAJOR REGIONAL ISSUES
Egypt and Greece expressed their deep concern about the deteriorating situation in Libya. They affirmed that reaching a comprehensive political settlement is the only way to resolve the conflict and restore stability in Libya. Both parties renewed their support for the initiatives adopted by the United Nations (UN), particularly the Action Plan for Libya, and reaffirmed their commitment to the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Libyan state. They condemned all kinds of foreign intervention in the internal affairs of Libya, as well as practices of transferring arms, military equipment, and foreign fighters to Libya—for being a clear violation of the UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 (2011), 1973 (2011) and 2441 (2018). Both countries also affirmed their refusal of any military intervention in Libya and agreed that the latest escalation by the Turkish side poses threat to security and safety in the region as a whole.
In June 2020, Greece welcomed the Cairo Declaration, a new Egyptian initiative to resolve Libyan crisis; while affirming its intent to contribute to the peace process. Greece called for the withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries in Libya and the return of all Libyan stakeholders to a dialogue process for a comprehensive political solution.
With regard to the Syrian crisis, both sides expressed their commitment to the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian state, along with their support to the international efforts toward a comprehensive political solution to this conflict as set out in the UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the Geneva Communiqué. They reaffirmed their support to the UN Special Envoy, and emphasized the need for resuming negotiations between the Syrian parties and convening the constitutional committee without delay. In addition, they strongly condemned any Turkish attempts to either undermine the unity of Syria’s territories or intentionally change the demographics in Syria.
FUTURE OF EGYPTIAN-GREEK BILATERAL RELATIONS
More likely, the bilateral cooperation between the two parties would increase during the coming period. This is due to the abundance of huge opportunities for trade cooperation between both countries in the field of establishing logistics hubs and free trade zones (FTZs), contracting, information technology, agricultural development, food industries and energy. There is also a possibility of mutual cooperation with the contracting sector, while benefiting from the Egyptian factors of production in this sector. That is in addition to the opportunity of receiving funding support from the African Bank for Development (ABD) or the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
Production and selling of natural gas, as well as executing the ‘electricity interconnection plan’ that links Egypt with Europe through Cyprus and Greece—along with other economic, educational and social fields—are among the highly recommended fields of cooperation to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries, in the common interest of both sides and the region as a whole,
In conclusion, we can say that there has been a steady and concrete progress in the Egyptian-Greek strategic partnership, the keystone of security and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean region in the 21st century. This bilateral partnership has become increasingly significant in creating a balance of power influencing the future of the region.
In addition to their military cooperation, the economic cooperation between Egypt and Greece, particularly in the field of oil and natural gas in the Mediterranean Sea, builds a buffer against the growing expansion of Turkish influence across the region—especially as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continue his attempts to disrupt any regional production of gas in the Eastern Mediterranean that would the importance of Turkey as a gas transit country to Europe.
At the economic level, it is necessary to activate the role of the Egyptian-Greek Business Council, while encouraging participation in joint exhibitions and exchanges of business delegations. This would contribute in stimulating intra trade, increasing joint investment projects, and strengthening mutual cooperation between both countries, thereby living up to a comprehensive strategic partnership.