egyptian foreign affairs: 100 years of diplomacy

28 February 2022

Kemet Boutros Ghali Foundation for Peace and Knowledge (KBG) marked the centenary of the return of the Egyptian Ministry of foreign affairs by organizing a celebratory webinar.

The ceremony began with Mr. Sameh Shoukry, Minister for Foreign Affairs, who delivered a recorded statement in which he commemorated the return of the Egyptian Ministry as a part of the National Independence process. He acknowledged the sheer dedication of his predecessors in the face of challenges and emphasized the necessity of perpetuating their legacy to achieve Egypt's goals at the regional and international levels.

The Minister pointed out that Egyptian diplomats had succeeded in defending Egypt's best interests and meeting the challenges that had made it a partner in political decision-making and had participated in supporting Egypt's positions in international forums. The Ministry has managed to build up an accumulated body of expertise in various areas of diplomatic work, such as development and environmental diplomacy, and all the new topics in the international arena that have made it capable of interacting with a balanced and flexible policy.

« Egyptian foreign policy has been based on the diversification of its focus, the expansion of mutual partnership frameworks, the promotion of common interests, the support of different people, and the strengthening of national institutions around the world. »


For his part, Mr. Mamdouh Abbas, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Foundation, noted that the members of KBG were proud to carry the name of Boutros-Ghali. Boutros Ghali was an eminent diplomat in Egyptian foreign affairs and a brilliant academic and politician; his invaluable contribution benefited his country's foreign policy and the international community when he was appointed Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Mr. Abbas looked back with pride on the achievements of Egyptian foreign affairs and how they stemmed from the collective efforts and diligence of the Egyptian people from all backgrounds. The Declaration of February 28, 1922, restored Egypt's legal Independence but maintained four reservations.

"On March 15, 1922, Egypt announced its Independence. On the same day, the British Foreign Office informed all its representatives abroad that Egypt's legal status had changed and that its Government had become free to exercise its relations with other countries through its Ministry. The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs returned to work, and March 15 was declared Egyptian Diplomacy Day."

For the next century, the mechanisms and laws governing the work of diplomats would evolve. The Ministry now brings together young men and women from various academic fields based on competence to train at the Diplomatic Institute, founded in 1966. They then have the privilege to represent Egypt in many countries and become its ambassadors.


Mr. Amre Moussa, former Minister for Foreign Affairs and former Secretary-General of the League of Arab States confirmed that the February 28 statement opened a door for Egyptian diplomacy to play an active role domestically and regionally. However, he pointed out that Muhammad Ali Pasha had managed Egypt's relations with the Ottoman State and several European countries during his reign. Egypt handled negotiations with Great Britain for Independence and defended Arab identity in the 1940s when the Ministry played a role in resisting an attempt by King Farouk to revive the Caliphate.

According to Moussa, the Egyptian Ministry was in constant liaison with Enlightenment advocates in Europe, especially France, which emphasized the Mediterranean dimension of Egyptian foreign policy. The African question was also a top priority for Egyptian diplomacy, and Egypt participated vigorously in establishing the Organization of African Unity (OAU).

Moussa noted that Egypt played an active role in the United Nations after the Second World War and was an arduous defendant of Human rights and that its judges were among the first to work in international judicial organizations. Egyptian diplomacy has had many independent positions over the years, including its historic role in establishing the Non-Aligned Movement and defending the Palestinian cause.


In the same historical context, Dr. Mohamed Afifi, Professor of Modern History at Cairo University, reviewed the role of Egyptian Foreign Affairs since the time of Mohamed Ali, notably that of Nubar Pasha and his historical travels to promote Egypt's foreign policy in Europe.

"At this time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was called the Office of African Affairs and Trade and later became the Foreign Affairs Bureau. The Prime Minister was also acting as Minister of Foreign Affairs until Britain declared Egypt a protectorate in 1914 and appointed a British High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs of Egypt." 

Dr. Afifi noted that the 1919 revolution and the Egyptian nationalist movement's demand for Independence led to the February 28 declaration. Mr. Abd al-Khaliq Tharwat set two conditions for assuming the presidency of the Government when he called for the abolition of the protectorate and the Declaration of Independence of Egypt, which was promptly set in motion.

"Abdul Khalik Tharwat insisted on the establishment of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a symbol of Egypt's sovereignty in managing its foreign affairs and relations with the countries of the world."


From 1952 to the 1970s, Abdel Khaliq Hassouna Pasha, as Ambassador Hussein Hassouna pointed out, was one of the prominent examples of Egyptian diplomats. He took over the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and then became the Secretary-General of the League of States, noting that Egyptian missions had begun in Washington, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Abdel Khaliq Hassouna was Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in 1948. Hassouna Pasha was a critical element in the negotiations leading to the armistice agreement and a representative of Egypt in preparing the Joint Arab Defense Project.


Ambassador Maged Abdel Fattah, a Permanent Observer for the League of Arab States at the United Nations, spoke about the interdependence and the intergenerational transfer of experience, which has served their ability as a technical body to maintain a framework of cooperation for the achievement of Egyptian goals. He noted that Egyptian diplomacy had dealt with many Arab issues before the Security Council.

He suggested that after many international and regional changes, it is now necessary to work on a reconciliation plan for North Africa, to support the Egyptian African rapprochement; and to develop an action plan for the preservation of Palestinian rights in the context of bilateral agreements between the Arab States and Israel.


As for the role of Egyptian women in diplomacy, Ambassador Wafaa Basim, a member of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, noted that the Ministry has given women the opportunity to work in this field and has continuously taught and encouraged them.

"Over the past 60 years, you will find a significant increase in the number of female diplomats, their specializations, the areas where they work, as well as the cases in which they became pioneers of change and progress."

Ms. Bassim mentioned a few examples who played a vital role in the Ministry, such as Ms. Mervat Tallawy and Ambassador Bahiga Arafa, and Ambassador Hoda el-Marasy, who was the first to represent Egypt as an ambassador abroad. Ms. Bassim praised the excellent work of Ambassador Mona Omar, who is still working on the African file with great competence, and Ambassador Naila Gabr, who has taken over combatting the human trafficking and anti-discrimination cases against women. Finally, she referred to several names that worked in Egyptian foreign affairs and became ministers, such as Ms. Hikmat Abu Zayd and Ms. Aisha Rateb.


Ambassador Laila Bahaa El-Din, Executive Director of the Foundation, pointed out that today, the number of women in Egyptian Foreign affairs is close to the number of men employed, and that the Ministry has become dependent on them for complex tasks and sends them like their colleagues to problematic areas of tension and war, which was never the case before.


In the same spirit, Dr. Abdel Monem Said, former Chairman of the Board of Directors of Al- Ahram newspaper and current Chairman of the Board of Directors of Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper, confirmed that the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reflects Egypt's evolution over the past century. The process of modernization and institutional mobilization that began since Muhammad Ali's time has helped to ensure the existence of Egyptian foreign affairs in this form, following the establishment of the Egyptian University and the Suez Canal.

For 100 years - according to Dr. Abdel Monem Saeed - Egyptian foreign affairs have developed and defined Egypt's geopolitical, political, and economic status. The communication of Egyptian Foreign Affairs and its cadres with the outside world has been instrumental in understanding global changes. Its modernization as a professional institution has enabled it to contribute to Egypt's definition and identification and promote Egyptian and regional national security.

"Egyptian diplomacy is a vector of growth and helped Egypt adapt to important international issues for the past century. The Suez Canal, for instance, has transformed the geopolitical scene in the Arab, African and Mediterranean regions. Egyptian Foreign Affairs, as an institution, has enabled us to work in any global context."


The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was home to many renowned politicians, such as Dr. Mostafa El Feki, Director of the Library of Alexandria, who paid tribute to a long-standing school of critical thinkers in the history of diplomacy. After the 1952 revolution, several officers entered the Institution, including Mr. Hafez Ismail, whom Dr. El Feki described as one of the fathers of Egyptian diplomacy, and Mr. Mohamed Salahuddin, who led the negotiations between Britain and Egypt.

Dr. El Feki also paid homage to Dr. Mahmoud Fawzi, a pioneer of Egyptian diplomacy, and Mr. Ismael Fahmy, who gave some autonomy to the Egyptian diplomats. Finally, he credited Mr. Amre Moussa with changing the Ministry's working methods and overall structure and making room for young people to express their opinion.


Mr. Liao Liqiang, Ambassador of China to Egypt, stressed the strong relations between the two countries and the importance of increased cooperation for greater stability in the Arab and African regions. The Chinese Ambassador said that Egypt and China were both states with ancient civilizations, which deepened their mutual respect.

Mr. Liqiang referred to Minister Sameh Shoukry's article, in which he outlined the role of Egyptian foreign affairs in supporting Egypt's relations with the world and its constant quest for further stability and support for the aspirations of people. He also emphasized Egypt's position in support of Beijing on many international issues and his appreciation for China's support of Egypt during the Coronavirus crisis.