Manal El Shinnawi: Egyptians Could Come to Bulgaria's Ski Resorts
Novinite has interviewed Egypt's Ambassador to Bulgaria, H.E. Manal El Shinnawi, on the occasion of the 90th anniversary since diplomatic relations were established between the two countries which has celebrated in February.
Mrs El Shinnawi began working for Egypt's Foreign Ministry in 1989. Between January 1998 and January 2001, she was Second Secretary at the Embassy of Egypt in Harare, Zimbabwe. Between September 2004 and September 2008, Mrs El Shinnawi was Deputy Head of Mission at the Egyptian Embassy to Greece.
In September of 2012, she was promoted to Deputy Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs.
She has been Egypt's Ambassador to Sofia since May 2013.
Your Excellency, you said on the 90th anniversary of bilateral relations that this year will be highlighted by increased cooperation in culture and tourism. Speaking of culture, are there any interesting events related to Egyptian culture we should wait for?
This year commemorates 90 years of diplomatic relations between Egypt and Bulgaria. We care to make it a special year. So we started actually by making several cultural events, because we believe that Bulgarian people know a lot about Egyptian civilizaton, history and culure. We care to make cultural bonds between both countries. This year started by having this big cultural event. We invited Dr Zahi Hawass, a well-known Egyptian archaeologist and Egyptologist, he is our former Minister of Antiquities, to come and give a lecture here. I believe it was very good that he spoke about his latest discoveries about Ancient Egypt. We were overwhelmed by the big number of Bulgarian friends who attended this lecture. Before that we had a visit, a few days before Dr Hawass, we had a visit by the Director of the Alexandria Library [Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a library opened in 2002 to commemorate the ancient Library of Alexandria and serve as a contemporary cultural center]Dr Ismail Serageldin. He was here and he gave also a very successful lecture under the title Seven Pillars of Knowledge. It was very good to speak about the library and about the future aspects for knowledge and that was a very successful visit as well. This year actually we expect to finalize the new agreement on cultural, scientific and education cooperation between Egypt and Bulgaria. This is the new protocol I believe it gives very good prospects of cooperation in diffferent fields.
This year we also care to show more of the Egyptian culture, also contemporary Egyptian culture and arts, so we intend in April to organize and exhibition about Egyptian arts. We also plan to organize another exhibition at the end of the year about Arabic caligraphy. We would also like to have Egyptian musicals, so we are expecting one of our conductors to come here by the middle of the year. These are things we have in our pipeline.
We also care very much to participate in the festivals of Bulgaria and to have participation from Bulgaria in our festivals in Egypt. We care that both of us are participating in cultural celebrations across the country.
This year we plan to launch a book that is mainly about tourism in Egypt and different types of it - cultural, historical, sea tourism. It is done in cooperation with ABUJET [the Bulgarian Association of Journalists and Travel Writers]. What is important in this book is that it is written by Bulgarian journalists, people who visited Egypt as tourists. We are proud of it very much and we are looking forward to seeing it in the bookstores here in Bulgaria. Also maybe if we speak about culture, also we would like to say that we are very proud of having the institute of Egyptology, which is part of the New Bulgarian University. It is doing a good work for bringing more ties between Egypt and Bulgaria, popularizing Egyptology in Bulgaria. We are very happy and satisfied with the cooperation with them.
So I think there are very good prospects of cooperation. We had successful meetings when Dr Serageldin and Dr Hawass were here. We arranged one for Dr Hawass which gave him the opportunity to know a lot about the culutre and civilization and discoveries. He had archaeological visits in Bulgaria. I am very proud also to say that when Dr Hawass returned to Egypt, he wrote about the archaeology of Bulgaria. He wrote about his experience in Bulgaria and that was very good because when many articles were written here about Dr Hawass, at the same time he wrote about his archaeological visit and what he appreciated from his meetings and his archaeological sites.
When you mentioned the art exhibition, I realized that perhaps to many people in Bulgaria and elsewhere Egypt is known for its ancient civilization, but many people might be wondering what happens with contemporary art and culture. Does any of these events include contemporary art?
This is actually what we are planning - that the forthcoming exhibition will include contemporary art to broaden cooperation in this field. Because this gives the opportunity to present contemporary arts and open up bridges between artists from both countries. We care also that this exhibition not only shows whatever we are going to present, but to give a briefing about each artist - what he is doing, his ideas, what is the meaning of his paintings... I believe this will open a channel for cooperation between artists themselves. Actually we are cooperating with Sofia University on various aspects and I believe there will be very good cooperation in this field. If we speak about culture, it's a good opportunity to speak about education. We already have a good cooperation in the field of education and also it's good to mention here the University of Velko Tarnovo; I'd like to mention that it had awarded Dr Hawass Dr Honorary Causa, and he was awarded the same now by the New Bulgarian University's Institute of Egyptology. We also have cooperation with Svishtov academy. We care to have even more cooperation in the field of education.
How do you plan to cooperate with Bulgaria in tourism this year?
Let me start actually from last year, becasue we are building up from everything. Last year we had a very good conference about cooperation between both countries in the field of tourism that took place in March 2015 in Cairo, Alexandria. It was a very good event to speak about tourism in Bulgaria and tourism in Egypt. We also cooperated with tour operators here in Bulgaria. In 2014 we held a meeting with tour operators in Bulgaria, then last year we organized a very successful trip for the Bulgarian press and the media, they traveled to Egypt and went to beautiful touristic sights, including Soma Bay, a very beautiful resort about Hurghada. They saw very beautiful chains, the perfect service we have in these places, so it was a very successful trip. We care to have more of these trips for Bulgarian press to come to see Egypt to know more about tourism and opportunities we have. Then actually we plan to have another trip for the Bulgarian press. I would like to give you some numbers about why it's very promising to have more cooperation between Egypt and Bulgaria. Because actually in 2015 we witnessed a very good raise of the number of tourists coming to Egypt. It increased by 37.4 percent than 2014. We care to increase the number definitely. Believe that Bulgaria is a priority to Egypt for developing tourism. It comes from our plans to develop tourism. There are incentives to our plan for tourism from the Ministry of Tourism of Egypt. They also care to give incentives to charter flights, to Luxor and Aswan, very beautiful historical places. There are incentives to flights to Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh.
I can say there are also very good opportunities of cooperation making very good workshops together. We cannot make cooperation between the chambers of tourism in Egypt and Bulgaria.
Also, with the visit of Dr Hawass we had our expert of tourism, Mr El Masry, and he talked about many incentives he cares to do, also a Famtrip to Egypt, and he spoke about the different incentives. Many fields of cooperation, in Egypt we pay attention to the wellness and spa tourism in Bulgaria. We had very successful charter flights to Varna last year. And I think this year there will also be charter flights from Egypt to Varna - because Varna was a very popular destination to Egyptians years ago. Definitely it's important to revive this. We know Egyptians like very much varna. Charter flights trips were very sucessful last year, and we expect more from Varna.
It's very important to speak about the beautiful resorts we have, the history about this, the security and stability of such places, and the best services.
You mentioned the Egyptian tourists to Bulgaria. Do you have the number of Egyptian tourists who visited Bulgaria lat year?
I don't have accurate numbers, but for instance in December of 2014 we had the annual conference of Novartis Egypt. It was a touristic trip for them, and it was a big number - more than 700. There is no record, but I know many Egyptians go to Varna. And there are very good opportunities that Egyptians come to the ski resorts. With more advertisement of ski resorts, I am sure many Egyptians would come.
Beyond tourism and culture, which are the fields where you see more potential is to be explored bilaterally?
We can say that we have a big number of agreements. Nineteen agreements between the two countries covering different fields.
They cover different aspects, maybe scientific cooperation, health, I believe all this we have to push forward to activate many of the agreements we are having. Of course from the agreements we have economic agreements, investment protection and in this, of course, economy is also important. There is keenness from businessmen from both countries to go vice-versa. Also in Egypt we have mega economic projects like we are working now - the project of development of the Suez Canal axis, reclamation of one million and a half acres, and the new administrative capital, as well as the discovery of the largest gas field on our Egyptian coast of the Eastern Mediterranean. So I believe all of these are prospects for future cooperation. I can say that also Egypt gives a good opportunity for being a door to Africa. Maybe it's good to mention that on February 20-21 we hosted in Sharm El-Sheikh a conference on investment in Africa. It gave a good opportunity to have partnerships between the private sector and the governments to have more investment projects in Africa. In 2015 we also had our conference in Sharm el-Sheikh hosting the Tripartite Summit of three big blocs in Africa, COMESA [Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa], EAC [East African Community] and SADC [Southern African Development Community]. It allowed these three blocs to have more cooperation in the African context. I believe the opportunities to cooperate between Egypt and Bulgaria in the context of going to Africa and having more cooperation with Africa, are good in the context of widening up our spheres of cooperation.
Looking at trade statistics, exports from Bulgaria to Egypt nearly doubled last year. Do you know why it happened?
The numbers increased, it's almost 41% in 2014 compared to 2013, and the number has increased also last year. Maybe we will go back to economy that there is interest on both sides about having more trade between Egypt and Bulgaria. We had a successful trip of businessmen from the Haskovo Chamber of Commerce last year, they went to Egypt, and that was just before our International Economic Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh they were there. They had opportunities to have meetings with Egyptian businessmen. And it was good to know more of the opportunities for pushing more the trade between the two countries. We have good opportunities for trade if we speak about agriculture. We have products that could be very successful here, like Egyptian mangos. Our fruits, our oranges as well. I believe there is interest from both countries to have exports from both Bulgaria and Egypt. It is mutual and we can benefit each other according to our products and have even more increase of the trade between us.
Is there anything Bulgaria and Egypt could do together to address the terrorism threat?
Terrorism is of course now an international threat, and we believe international cooperation is very important in this aspect. We believe it is important to have this comprehensive approach in combating terrorism - security, economic, social - in dealing with issues of terrorism. The cooperation is very important combating radical ideology, and you know of course that Egypt is the center of Al Azhar and Dar al-Ifta, which have their important role of spreading and promoting the moderate values of Islam. We have had several recent visits of Sheikh al-Azhar [the Grand Imam of al-Azhar] in different European countries. Of course we also have President Sisi's initiative of renewing religious discourse, which aims at preserving the true values of Islam and keeping it away from radicalism and extremism. After our membership as a non-permanent member in the United Nations Security Council 2016-2017, now we chair the Counter-Terrorism Committee of the Security Council. So international cooperation in dealing with this threat is something very important.
- » Sacred Language of My Predecessors: An Exhibition on Croatian-Bulgarian Parallels
- » Ilham Ahmed: Sudan Wants to Revive Ties with Bulgaria at All Levels
- » Iraq's Embassy Hosts Photo Exhibition in Support of Mosul Offensive
- » Rajesh Kumar Sachdeva: Bulgaria Emerging as Destination for Indian Film Industry
- » Bulgaria, Sudan Mark 60 Years of Diplomatic Relations
- » Irit Lillian: History Should Not Be Most Important Element in Israel-Bulgara Relations