By Gulbarshyn Sabayeva and Altair Nurbekov in Opinions on 15 August
In an interview with The Astana Times, Ambassador of Kazakhstan to Egypt and Morocco Berik Aryn, who also serves as the country’s representative to the African Union, spoke about Kazakhstan’s expanding ties with the continent.
In light of the latest political changes in Egypt, how do you see the prospects for the further development of bilateral relations between two countries?
First, it must be noted that over the past three years, Egypt has experienced two revolutions. Today it is going through a challenging moment in its history, and therefore the pace of development of Kazakh-Egyptian relations has been affected, as have its relations with other foreign partners.
Nevertheless, the fundamental principles governing relations between Astana and Cairo are unchanged, especially those of amity and purposeful cooperation … .
In this regard, the election of a new president of Egypt, after which a new government was formed, allows us to begin a new stage of comprehensive cooperation In a letter addressed to Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, congratulating him on the his election as the President of Egypt, President Nursultan Nazarbayev noted that “Kazakhstan considers Egypt an important partner in the Islamic world and is interested in further deepening of bilateral cooperation between the two countries and strengthening cooperation within the framework of multilateral institutions”.
Egypt has been, and remains, one of the most important political partners for Astana in the Middle East and North Africa. Our interest lies in the further development of political dialogue with this pivotal Arab country. We also aim to consolidate cooperation in a multilateral format, advance trade and economic relations, maintain a high level of cultural and humanitarian cooperation.
Despite the ongoing transitional period in Egypt … active political dialogue between our nations has not been interrupted. Over the last two years alone, there were four meetings of the foreign ministers of Kazakhstan and Egypt within UN General Assembly meetings, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation activities, et cetera.
As a result, Cairo positively responded to almost all major international initiatives of Astana, including the EXPO-2017 and a campaign for a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council for 2017-2018. Cairo also appreciates Astana’s efforts on nuclear disarmament and continues its activity in the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) and the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.
To identify prospective areas and develop specific cooperative steps to strengthen bilateral cooperation at a new stage, we are planning a series of steps. These include convening the next session of the Kazakh-Egyptian Intergovernmental Commission on trade and economic, cultural and humanitarian, scientific and technical cooperation, renewing the activity of the Kazakh-Egyptian Business Council and holding ministerial consultations.
We have a task of establishing grain exports from Kazakhstan to Egypt. Despite the fact that our grain is not competitive in the Egyptian market today due to high transportation costs, it remains a crucial area of cooperation, as Kazakhstan is among the six largest exporters of grain in the world, while Egypt is the largest importer in the world (importing about 7-10 million tonnes per year). Moreover, we did have positive experience of cooperation in this field. The largest supply of grain from Kazakhstan to the Land of the Pharaohs was made in 2008 (750,000 tonnes) and 2010 (467,500 tonnes).
A separate topic of our cooperation is tourism. Nowadays, Egypt desperately needs to develop this sector. Egyptian authorities are planning a series of activities aimed at promoting Egyptian tourist destinations among the citizens of Kazakhstan. … An exciting prospect of our plan is to launch regular Sharm el-Sheikh-Almaty-Sharm el-Sheikh flights.
Among the projects in the cultural and humanitarian sphere, I would like to emphasise the plans to improve the performance and quality of teaching in Nur-Mubarak University in Almaty, so its graduates can be granted the right to enrol directly into master’s courses at Al-Azhar University in Cairo … .
However, the main event designed to boost bilateral relations and determine the contours of the new Kazakh-Egyptian partnership is the upcoming official visit of Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan Erlan Idrissov to Cairo in the beginning of next year.
You are also Kazakhstan’s ambassador to Morocco. How would you describe relations between Astana and Rabat now?
The development of political, economic and cultural cooperation with Morocco is of considerable interest to Kazakhstan, heightened by [Morocco’s] important geopolitical position at the crossroads of Africa and Europe, close to important sea lanes in the Atlantic and Mediterranean regions.
Today, our countries enjoy a firmly established political dialogue. Last April, a Moroccan parliamentary delegation headed by Muhammad Al-Sheikh Biyadillah, chairman of the House of Councillors of the Parliament of Morocco, visited Astana … with the first official visit at such a high level in the history of relationship between the two states. … .
We are currently taking appropriate measures to expand trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian ties by organising mutual visits, establishing an intergovernmental commission and business council, developing a legal framework.
Until 2014, Kazakhstan’s embassy in Egypt was its only diplomatic mission on the African continent. In this regard, what can you say about our relationships with African states? What are the prospects for their development?
On Nov. 14, 2013, Kazakhstan gained observer status in the African Union, the only pan-African organisation. This status opens up excellent opportunities for Kazakhstan to establish mutually beneficial cooperation with all countries on the continent. It is no accident that in the new Foreign Policy Concept of Kazakhstan for the period of 2014-2020, Africa has been indicated as one of the top priorities.
At present, Kazakhstan has established diplomatic relations with the majority of African countries. South Africa has an embassy in Kazakhstan; last January, the Embassy of Kazakhstan opened in South Africa. Soon our embassy will be opening in Ethiopia.
Astana is observing political and economic transformations in Africa with great interest. We can see a serious geopolitical struggle between the major powers of the world for its rich natural resources.
At the same time, it is a rather complex region where peace, stability and security have been significantly undermined. Kazakhstan intends to significantly contribute to the establishment of safety on the continent. Kazakhstan has decided to send officers to UN peacekeeping missions in Western Sahara, Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia.
African countries in total have a lion’s share of votes in international organisations, including the United Nations, which is an important factor, considering Kazakhstan’s active and progressive foreign policy. For example, we were able to gain the right to host EXPO 2017 in Astana thanks to the support of African countries during the voting process.
Now, we aim to attract more African countries to participate in EXPO 2017.
Another foreign policy priority today is the promotion of Kazakhstan’s candidacy for a nonpermanent seat on the UN Security Council for the period of 2017-2018. Our agenda is quite similar to [African states’], which includes issues of food, water and energy security, UN reform and the battle against terrorism. We rely on the support of African states in these issues as well.
In the trade and economic sphere, there are good prospects for establishing mutually beneficial relations in agriculture and mining, as well as the participation of Kazakh companies in implementing infrastructure projects. Africa is also a huge market for the possible export of Kazakhstan’s grain.
In the context of expanding collaboration with Africa, the key event was the first official visit of Minister of Foreign Affairs Erlan Idrissov to Addis Ababa in December 2013, which launched multilateral high-level contacts with the African Union and laid the foundation for mutually beneficial cooperation between Kazakhstan and Ethiopia, one of the leading countries of the continent.
During the visit, the minister met with Erastus Mwencha, vice president of the African Union Commission, and delivered a speech to permanent representatives of the 54 member states of the African Union. He held important negotiations with Hailemariam Desalegn, prime minister of Ethiopia; Mulatu Teshome, president of Ethiopia; and with his counterpart, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, during which agreements were made concerning establishing a legal base of bilateral relations and trade and economic ties.
Our cooperation with the African continent is at the formative stage, and we are determined to move forward in this direction.
You also serve as Kazakhstan’s permanent representative to a number of other international organisations, such as the League of Arab States and the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation [ISESCO]. What kind of work is Kazakhstan doing in these organisations?
The interaction with the League of Arab States is useful for Kazakhstan in terms of promoting the interests and foreign policy initiatives of Kazakhstan in the Arab world. This includes expanding trade, economic and cultural ties. Astana and the LAS have similar views on many current issues. Arab countries highly appreciate Kazakhstan’s continuous support of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and its aspirations to help create in the Middle East a zone free of nuclear weapons.
This year, at the initiative of Saudi Arabia, a new mechanism for interregional cooperation was launched: the Forum on Economy and Cooperation of Arab Countries with the Central Asian States and Azerbaijan. On May 13, 2014, Riyadh hosted the inaugural session of the forum with the participation of foreign ministers and economy ministers of the member states. Minister Idrissov headed the Kazakh delegation.
The forum adopted the Riyadh Declaration, which among general positions on the development of comprehensive relations between member states, reflected the call for active participation in EXPO 2017, the contribution of Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries to nuclear disarmament processes and support of Kazakhstan’s initiative to convene the Congress of the World and Traditional Religions.
Government officials and the leaders of Kazakhstan’s National Commission for UNESCO and ISESCO participate in the activities of the organisation in all its fields of competence.
Developing a culture of dialogue is one of the main activities of ISESCO. In this regard, the organisation has recently shown an increased interest in the activities of the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, and delegated a representative to the conference marking the 10th anniversary of the congress in Astana on Sept. 25, 2013.
In accordance with the decision taken at the sixth General Conference of ISESCO, Almaty was declared a capital of Islamic culture for 2015 and is currently organising a number of cooperative activities, including conferences, book and handicraft exhibitions and performances of folk ensembles.
In the context of further expansion, we are working on opening a regional ISESCO branch in Almaty.