Shoukry: The Spirit of Rhodes binds countries of the East Med

Shoukry: The Spirit of Rhodes binds countries of the East Med

“For us terrorism is a threat that we all face, of all faiths, of all nationalities. We must fight it in solidarity…”  Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry stated on the margins of the Rhodes Conference for Stability and Security.

Read the full interview below

Could you define the Spirit of Rhodes and elaborate on why you believe it is useful?

The Spirit of Rhodes is useful because of the very strong relations that bind the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean. These relations have been very well established throughout ancient times through to modern times something which is clearly reflected in  the presence of communities of both Greece and Egypt in the modern age. The security of the Eastern Mediterranean and the challenges that we face are similar. Whether this is  related to political challenges, or economic challenges, thereby if we work together we will have a better opportunity to fulfil our aspirations but also to protect ourselves from the threat to the peace and security of this region. On the basis of political understanding and recognition that we have to provide to mechanisms and architecture that can play a role in fulfilling the security and stability of our region so that we can all concentrate on development and our economy.

What about the security structure, the initial idea, can it be developed?

Well, the security structure has to be built progressively and gradually. It has to also take into account the various other associations a well as the regions of all of our countries. For example, Greece has an association to NATO, Egypt, amongst other countries, does not.  Egypt has an association to the Arab League, its institutions and mechanisms. So we have to build security architecture that does not conflict with or intercept the other associations in the region. This means that we have to build on the Rhodes foundation, that we need to create a better understanding between us and define the parameters and the structures that can fulfil our obligations without intercepting or contradicting with other obligations. This of course has to go through discussions, deliberations and we have to lay out our positions on the table. One of the most important things of this forum is the fact that we are able to exchange views with great transparency and openness and this can mainly be attributed to its size and nature. The fact that there is a lot of transparency and a lot of confidence between the countries allows us to present issues in a very candid and direct manner.

Do you see any way of cooperation between governments regarding the discovery of gas in the area?

Certainly, I think it is important for all of us to discover new ways of cooperation.  Among them is cooperation in the energy sector. Currently we have a good level of cooperation with countries like Cyprus where we have eliminated our maritime border. We are also in discussions with Greece on the basis of regulations and principles of the law of the sea. We are confident that we will be able to reach an agreement in this regard that will open up more avenues of cooperation and find a way of utilizing our resources consequently creating further interdependency. Egypt, for example, has extensive gas re-liquidification resources at its disposal. So, if we take advantage of this, other countries like Cyprus or Israel for that matter, don’t have to establish these but can rely on liquidification plants in Egypt. So, there is a lot of potential. It is a matter of building the relationship, creating a good security climate, stability and peace in the region that will open the door for greater utilization of our joint resources and the comparative advantage that each country has vis a vis the other. And of course all of this will create better opportunities for employment, economic prosperity, for revenues to our economies that will all be beneficial and will take us all forward.

Turkey has been involved in Egypt’s internal affairs in the past and it currently has boots on the ground in both Syria and Iraq. Can you elaborate further on the role of Turkey in the region?

We believe that all countries in the region should apply themselves in accordance with the principles and goals of the charter of the UN. These are the principles upon which the international community and the world regulates international affairs and they comprise of all of the elements that provide for the security of each State and at the same time protect other States from any form of depletion of their security, non-intervention and peaceful resolution of disputes, working in cooperation. These are principles enshrined in the charter of the UN and should be applied. Non-acceptance of occupation of territory, the use of force except in self-defense; if all of the States of the region and if all of the international community conforms to these principles, then we will be in a better situation without conflict and competition or without areas of friction that can quickly escalate into outright hostilities.

Do you believe that Syria should remain an integral independent State?

Most definitely. Syria is defined by its sovereignty and territorial integrity, as we called for during the discussions. The potential of the fragmentation of the States and the architecture and the status of the world order have been built on the principle of centralized, unified States that are creating the necessary balance but are also providing the necessary services and responsibilities for the people. With fragmentation there is constant conflict, constant friction, constant lack of ability to provide the people with certain services, whether it is security, because you have to have one security service, one national army, you cannot have competing national armies and competing services, or else this will be squandering of the resources of the State. The unified nation State is the best guarantee of stability and security, and the best guarantee against terrorism, because it is the unified State with its institutions that can defeat the terrorist on its territory. It is that responsibility to protect its territory and its people and this is the outcome that we see and the dangers that we see in countries like Syria, or in Libya or in Iraq where terrorism has infiltrated their organizations. Terrorist organizations have infiltrated these countries because of the lack of unified State structures and institutions.

In view of recent terrorist attacks both against Muslims as well as Christians, what is your opinion on the matter – as many people believe that only Christians are prosecuted?

In terms of the number of Muslims that have been subject to killing and targeting and injury by terrorist organizations, it exceeds the number of Christians. But in Egypt we don’t make the division of whether the terrorists have targeted Muslims or Christians. We look at whether the terrorists have targeted Egyptians, Egyptian citizens, who all deserve to live in peace and security and the protection to the best ability of the State. Even the army and the police force, that are constantly combatting and are subject to terrorist aggression, have lost countless lives in defending Egyptian territory and the Egyptian public. For us terrorism is a threat that we all face, of all faiths, of all nationalities. We must fight it in solidarity and this is the case in Egypt. The whole population, irrespective of its religion, recognizes the dangers and looks at any attack as an attack on the whole people of Egypt./ΙΒΝΑ

Photos: IBNA/Spiros Sideris