In March, Qatar and Egypt struck investment agreements worth a combined $5 billion, an Egyptian official told Doha News.
Egypt and Qatar should avoid looking back and focus on the future, Cairo’s finance minister told Doha News on Tuesday, just days ahead of a visit to Cairo by Qatar’s Amir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
“I don’t see that we should look back to anything [and] we should look to the front, to that way forward,” Mohamed Maait told Doha News in an exclusive interview at the sidelines of this year’s Qatar Economic Forum (QEF) .
“I believe that the future of our region will depend on our action and our people will judge our success or failure depending on our actions [and] how we facilitate our cooperation and how we facilitate our way of creating a better environment which can benefit our people,” he said.
Cairo and Doha signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to expand financial and economic cooperation during the second ever QEF event, held in Doha earlier this week.
The MoU, signed between Qatar’s Minister of Finance Ali bin Ahmed Al Kuwari and his Egyptian counterpart Maait, “will help [the] two ministries, Finance of Egypt and Qatar, to cooperate further. And we’re gonna start next month discussions about removal of double taxation between our two countries,” the Egyptian official told Doha News.
He noted his hopes in further escalating diplomatic and economic relations with Qatar to boost trade between the two sides, especially through private sectors and direct investments.
Egypt has made huge progress in its infrastructure over the last seven years, with over $400 billion worth of investments “and we have a lot of opportunities and we believe
that with Qatar diversifying its investment,” the economic sector between the two will expand, the minister added.
There are currently 4,500 industrial collaborations between Egyptian and Qatari companies, and with relations seeing a mend in recent months, more trade is expected.
In March, the Egyptian government said Qatar and Egypt had struck investment agreements worth a combined $5 billion in various industries.
“Our economic relationship is growing and I’m very happy,” Maait told Doha News on Tuesday.
“Since last year, there are regular visits to Doha and to Cairo and also there was
an agreement for $5 billion, $3 billion deposited in the Central Bank of Egypt
and $2 billion dollars for investment,” with talks centred around such move steering towards the right direction very well, the diplomat added.
“We might see even more Qatari investment in Egypt.”
Egypt was among four countries – Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – that imposed an illegal air, land and sea blockade on Qatar in 2017 over allegations that Doha supports terrorism. The embargo had a massive impact across the board, with diplomatic ties broken, imports coming to a halt and nationals of all involved countries bearing the brunt of the political crisis.
However, that all ended in January 2021, when the Al Ula Agreement was signed to restore diplomatic and trade ties between Qatar and the blockading countries.
Shortly after the summit in Saudi Arabia’s Al Ula, Qatari Finance Minister Ali Al Emadi attended the inauguration of the St. Regis Hotel in Cairo – a $1.3 billion investment by the Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company.
Months later in June 2021, Egypt’s Sisi named Amr El Sherbiny as the country’s envoy to Doha, seen at the time as step towards rapid economic and diplomatic normalisation between the two countries.
On Friday, Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim landed in Cairo for the first visit to Egypt since the blockade. The Gulf state’s leader met Egypt’s President Sisi – marking the most apparent and major indicator of the complete restoration of ties between the two states.
“Every one of us is dreaming for tomorrow, dreaming for better. Tomorrow is dreaming for security, it’s dreaming for prosperity, jobs, young people looking for jobs, our people looking for a better life,” the Egyptian minister said of his home country, where youth unemployment stands at 26.54% for individuals between the age of 15 to 24.
However, while relations have appeared to warm, the Sisi regime continues to crackdown on the press, including Al Jazeera’s journalists.
Last month, an Egyptian court sentenced Doha-based Al Jazeera presenter Ahmed Taha to 15 years in prison in absentia. Taha was sentenced over claims of “spreading false news” during an interview with Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a leading opposition figure and former presidential candidate in 2018.
Such accusations are frequently raised against journalists and activists as Egypt continues to reign as one of the world’s worst jailer of the press.
There are four Al Jazeera journalists currently detained in Egypt, and it remains unclear whether their release will be an issue raised in the meeting between the two leaders on Friday.
Ukraine’s impact on Cairo
Addressing the QEF, Maait noted the forum’s crucial role in helping address concerns affecting the globe “it’s important that we exchange ideas and every one of us telling the others about what challenges and how each one is managing these shocks and these challenges and expectations for how things will develop and evolve.”
The minister particularly pointed to several topics of concerns as sticking points, such as “the war in Ukraine, the high inflation, the high cost of financing [as well as] the disruption and supply chain”.
Since the onset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi has tried to “balance” both relationships, refusing to condemn Moscow’s actions as “strongly as the United States has asked,” the New York Times reported last week.
Egypt imported around 80% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine last year, alone. Since the February 24 invasion of Ukraine, wheat importers in Egypt have been experiencing record-high prices, payment issues prompted by sanctions against Russia, and disruptions to Black Sea wheat shipments, especially from Kyiv.
“We are the largest importer of wheat in the world. We are 104 million and our
consumption of wheat is high,” the minister said. “We are importing around 12 million tons. And when you see that we used to buy at the cost of 220 or 230 a ton, now we talking about 470 or 500 [a ton],” he continued.
Experiencing a doubling of the prices, Egypt is managing by attempting to increase land allocated for wheat growth yearly, Maait told Doha News, adding that this year “we have half a million ton and we hope next year we will have another.”
“We currently produce around nine million tons to a maximum of 10, but this is less than 50% of our needs.”
To contain this situation, the Egyptian diplomat said the country is in discussions with other markets, namely India, Romania, France and Russia in an attempt to secure the “12 million ton.”