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Polish president visits Egypt for the first time in decades

The Polish president visited Egypt recently in the first such visit since 1992, which comes as the Russian war on Ukraine rages on.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and First Lady receive the president of Poland and his wife at Ittihadiya Palace, May 31, 2022.

CAIRO — The last time a Polish president visited Cairo was in 1992 when former President Lech Walesa paid an official visit to the North African country. This changed when current Polish President Andrzej Duda arrived in Egypt on May 29 with his wife for an official three-day visit. 

The timing of this visit is very important, as the Russian-Ukrainian war continues for the fourth month and especially since Poland is Ukraine's neighbor to the west. Poland strongly supports Ukraine in its war against Moscow. In addition, Ukraine has been relying on Poland to export grain via railways to Warsaw since Russia has blocked Ukraine's seaports. 

Egypt is one of the leading countries that import wheat from Ukraine and is currently preparing to receive four shipments of wheat from Kyiv through Warsaw. The latter has announced plans to reinforce its infrastructure in an attempt to facilitate the export of Ukrainian grains and other goods.

During his visit to Cairo, Andrei met with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at Al-Ittihadiya Palace on May 30. 

Speaking at a joint press conference with his Egyptian counterpart, the Polish president highlighted the strength of diplomatic ties between the two countries and announced that Poland will be represented at the highest level at the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2022 (COP27), which will be held in Sharm el-Sheikh in November. 

Andrei also expressed his happiness to be in Cairo, stressing that his talks with Sisi focused on economic and joint cooperation at the military and agricultural levels. He stated that he understood the Egyptian state's concerns about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and that “Poland will support Egypt with water so that the construction of the dam does not affect the Egyptian economy and agriculture.”

Hussein Haridi, former assistant foreign minister of Egypt, told Al-Monitor that the visit, the first at the presidential level in decades, reflects the two countries' desire to strengthen bilateral relations. 

According to Haridi, the talks between Andrei and Sisi focused on food security and the global energy crisis in light of the current global circumstances resulting from the Russian-Ukrainian war. He said the two presidents also discussed the latest regional and international developments, including the Russian-Ukrainian war that has caused an energy crisis in Europe after the latter’s decision to reduce dependence on Russian oil. 

In this vein, Egypt is expected to play a role in supplying Europe with energy, Haridi said.

In a comment on Poland's position on the Russian-Ukrainian war, Andrei said during the press conference, “Poland stands with Ukraine. Russia invaded Ukraine without any justification, but Ukraine must participate in negotiations [on a solution to the conflict]. There are no peaceful solutions without Ukraine's consent and participation."

In a speech at the Egyptian-Polish Business Forum held in Cairo on May 30, Andrei stressed that Egypt is an attractive country for Polish investors, especially since it is one of the best economic partners in this part of the world. 

He said that Egypt is an important point of entry to Arab and African markets and noted that the volume of trade exchange between the two countries in 2021 amounted to more than $700 million. 

The two sides signed several agreements during the forum, while discussions were held on cooperation in various fields.

For his part, Haridi said, “Poland is a neighboring country to Ukraine; therefore, the presence of the Polish president in Egypt at this time helps Egypt learn more about the reality of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis.”

He added, “Additionally, the visit strengthens economic cooperation between the two countries. Poland is a visionary in the field of climate development, as it hosted the Climate Change Conference three times in the past years. This visit will help boost cooperation between the two countries in the field of climate as Egypt prepares to host the COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh in November.”

On Poland's announcement of its support for the Egyptian position on the GERD file, Haridi said, “This support is evidence of the validity of the Egyptian position on the GERD crisis. It thus enhances the international community's support for the Egyptian position regarding the dam."

On his end, Sisi welcomed the Polish president's visit to Egypt. During the joint press conference, he said that the talks addressed ways to develop and strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries, increase the volume of trade exchange — especially in the fields of exporting phosphates and building materials — and intensify cooperation in water desalination and renewable energy. 

Sisi also said that he informed the Polish president of Egypt's efforts in combating terrorism and addressing illegal immigration. 

He added that his talks with Andrei tackled a number of important matters of common interest like the GERD issue and the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. 

Sisi also praised the Polish decision to resume direct flights between Cairo and Warsaw as of May 31 after a nine-year hiatus. 

He pointed out that Poland is of great importance to Egyptian tourism, especially as it ranks fifth among the countries exporting tourism to Egypt.

Elhamy el-Zayat, a tourism expert and former head of the Egyptian Tourism Federation (ETF), welcomed the decision to resume direct flights between the two countries. He told Al-Monitor that the move will help in the recovery of tourism during the coming period — especially in the Red Sea resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada — as Polish tourists prefer sea and beach tourism, which will return public benefits for the tourism sector in Egypt. 

Zayat noted that the timing of the decision is very important because it will make up for the lack of Russian and Ukrainian tourists to Egypt due to the ongoing war. He said this decision will bring more Polish tourists to Egypt because it will facilitate the movement of Polish tourists via direct flights between the two countries.

According to data from the Egyptian Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, the value of Egyptian exports to Poland rose to $204.5 million in 2021, compared to $123.4 million in 2020, an increase of 65.8%. The value of Egyptian imports from Poland reached $504 million in 2021, compared to $498.2 million in 2020, an increase of 1.2%. Meanwhile, the volume of trade exchange between the two countries in 2021 reached $708.5 million compared to $621.6 million in 2020, an increase of 14%.

During their visit, Andrei and his wife were also keen to hold a series of meetings with religious symbols in Egypt, where they met on May 30 with Pope Tawadros II, the current Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the Apostolic See of St. Mark the Evangelist. 

They also met on May 31 with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb. During his meeting, Andrei said, “We appreciate the role of Al-Azhar in combating extremism and fanaticism, addressing youth and young people with argument and reason, and we value the moderate Al-Azhar thought in spreading the values ​​of peace and pluralism.” 

During their meeting, the two sides also reached an agreement to enroll Polish students in Al-Azhar. 

Andrei concluded his visit to Egypt with a stop May 31 at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square.

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