Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek, heading a Czech delegation, continued an official visit to Cairo on Monday. The meeting with ministers and other representatives is aimed at deepening bilateral relations and bolstering further economic cooperation – with an accent on security and defence.
A delegation of 23 business representatives to Cairo, headed by Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek, is aiming to deepen economic and cultural ties with Egypt – one of the Czech Republic’s most significant trading partners in the Middle East. The initiative is to improve relations even though the country has seen marked political and social upheaval since the promise of Arab Spring democracy evaporated. Břetislav Tureček is a specialist on the Middle East at Prague’s Metropolitan University.
“The former Czechoslovakia had very strong ties with [Gamal Abdul] Nasser’s Egypt – a partner for major arms export but also cultural exchange. The Czechs enjoyed a good reputation which still holds true today… At the same time, I think that politicians sometimes overstate the importance of past relations: a lot has changed over the last 30 years and many of the ties with the Arab world no longer exist. The political and economic maps have changed.”
The hope, for the Czech delegation, is to encourage new business opportunities, much of it in the area of security and defence.
“[Egypt] is looking for competitive new products… What the Czech Republic can offer today are machine parts, transport systems and similar technology. As far as I know, a lot of work went into putting together a delegation representing these fields by the Foreign Ministry.”
But with all of the changes which have swept Egypt and other parts of the Middle East, there are clearly risks. Some question the stability of the Egyptian market, not least in the area of arms or defence. Břetislav Tureček again:
“We can’t pretend today that Egypt is a democracy: it is a semi-military regime with thousands of political prisoners behind bars. It is possible that European states will have to respect certain restrictions, not least regarding the sale of arms.”
The emphasis of the foreign minister’s visit is more than economic but also cultural, focussing, for example, on 55 years of Czech archaeological work in Cairo’s Abusir which has enjoyed remarkable success over the years. Mr Zaorálek has also emphasised the need for a solution in Syria. On Sunday, he met with members of the Syrian opposition in Cairo, agreeing that the utmost effort was needed to end violence in Syria so that refugees fleeing the conflict could return home.