Egypt’s new ambassador to Indonesia is “confident” that strong foundations and the huge potential for cooperation will help deepen and expand 71 years of Egyptian-Indonesian friendship.
Speaking Thursday at a mid-afternoon reception to commemorate the 43rd anniversary of the October War waged against Israel, incoming envoy Ahmed Amr Ahmed Moawad conveyed his hopes that both countries would share more “major projects together” and focus on “maximizing benefits” in the existing cooperation.
The ambassador said he would try to strengthen cooperation on all fronts, giving special mention to bilateral trade and people-to-people relations, as well as education and the promotion of tolerant Islam to combat violent extremism.
The two countries aim to reach US$2 billion of bilateral trade by 2020. According to Trade Ministry data, the two partners booked a total of $1.44 billion in trade last year, with trade balance favoring Indonesia.
“I truly believe that Egypt and Indonesia have the motivation not to rest on our historical slogans, building on new solid fields of cooperation,” Moawad told a packed room of foreign dignitaries and guests of honor.
Just a day after he submitted his credentials to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, Moawad wasted no time reminding Jakarta’s diplomatic community about the two countries’ close ties, choosing to hold his inaugural reception at a historical site in Central Jakarta.
“This place was used for historical meetings between the two leaders, [former president Gamal Abdel] Nasser and [Indonesia’s founding father] Sukarno,” he said of the Egyptian ambassador’s residence on Jl. Diponegoro, an edifice for the Non-Alignment Movement of 1961.
Moawad, a seasoned diplomat who previously served as Egypt’s Consul-General in Frankfurt, took the reigns from Bahaa Dessouki.
Egypt is Indonesia’s first diplomatic partner and the first country to recognize Indonesia’s independence. The country was also instrumental in garnering support for Indonesia through the Arab League, which is based in Cairo.
In addition to bilateral ties, Moawad said he aimed to forge deeper cooperations in Southeast Asia, following Egypt’s accession to the ASEAN-led Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) ahead of the 28th and 29th ASEAN Summits in Laos in September.
“This step will activate and upgrade bilateral relations between Egypt and ASEAN countries to a level that corresponds to contemporary and fundamental alterations, changes and challenges,” he said.
Without elaborating on any details, the envoy ensured that ASEAN member states could take advantage of wider access to global markets through Egypt, as it concludes the first phase of the New Suez Canal mega-project, which is also open to ASEAN participation.
“Many ASEAN members have good experiences and big potentials to partner with us in this mega endeavor,” he said.
Former foreign minister Alwi Shihab, who was present at Thursday’s reception, said there was lots of room to improve Indonesia’s economic ties with Egypt, whether it is through investments or enhancing the tourism sector.
“In recent times we have seen the routes to Egypt cut off due to security measures, but there is nonetheless an opportunity to develop the tourism sector,” said Alwi, the younger brother of former Indonesian ambassador to Egypt, Quraish Shihab.
Alwi also emphasized the importance of leveraging Al Azhar, Egypt’s oldest learning and research institution, in the fight against radicalism and violent extremism.
“We need to send more students there to be instructed about moderate Islam, which is a good fit with [Indonesian] culture. Al Azhar is the best place to send our students; when they return, they can help inform Indonesian society of the challenge of radicalism,” he said.
“The Egyptian government owes so much to Al Azhar and its ulemas, not just for Egyptian society but also the Muslim world on the whole.”