INTERVIEW: Greece values cooperation with Egypt on all levels
Ioannis Chrysoulakis, the secretary-general of Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy at the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who is set to start a visit to Egypt, spoke to Ahram Online about the depth of cooperation between Egypt and Greece along with future projects.
Chrysoulakis, who has significant experience in international administrative and scientific work, is a professor at various academic institutions in Greece and abroad, and he currently holds the title of professor emeritus.
He has also worked as a manager in the public and private sectors, collaborating with many international organisations, and participating in a large number of councils, committees, and conventions.
Moreover, he serves as the president of the National Centre for Public Administration and Local Government and elected vice-president of the International Association of Schools and Institutes of Administration.
“During my career, I have collaborated with many organisations and councils of local Greek communities both in Europe and the USA. I currently serve as the secretary-general for Greeks abroad and public diplomacy at the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” he said.
He emphasised that the main challenges facing Greeks living abroad are related to the implementation of existing government policies that target benefiting expats.
“In these difficult times, we have managed to formulate a comprehensive strategy for the Greek diaspora, designed to support and promote the interests of Greeks abroad as well as to strengthen their relations with the motherland,” he said.
The Greek government aims to safeguard the identity and awareness of Greek diaspora everywhere, preserving the Greek language and culture for the younger generations of expatriate Greeks, creating incentives for Greek expatriates to actively participate in the affairs of their home country, and promoting peaceful coexistence by forming a permanent bridge of communication and cooperation.
Engagement with diasporas is an important strategic function in today’s interconnected world, he stressed.
The challenge, therefore, is to recognise the huge potential of diaspora networks, which can be mobilised for the mutual benefit of countries such as Greece and Egypt, as well as internationally, he added.
Chrysoulakis said that his coming visit to Egypt coincides with the inauguration of the IDEA-Ancient Greek Science and Technology exhibition that is presented by the Thessaloniki Science Centre and Technology Museum (NOESIS), which will be held at Bibliotheca Alexandrina from 9 November through the beginning of February.
According to Chrysoulakis, this event offers an excellent opportunity to meet with his Egyptian counterparts once again and discuss ways to reinforce their partnership on diaspora issues.
He will also have a chance to meet with members of the Greek diaspora in Egypt.
The exhibition will be inaugurated in the presence of the Egyptian Minister of Emigration and Egyptian Expatriates Nabila Makram and the Greek Deputy Minister for Research and Technology Christos Dimas.
“The General Secretariat of Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs proudly put the event under its auspices, as we strongly believe that such commendable initiatives deserve our utmost support. More importantly, it is completely in line with our vision regarding the promotion of ancient Greek culture and its undisturbed influence to this day,” Chrysoulakis noted.
Egypt, which is one of the most ancient and important civilisations in the history of mankind, is an ideal place to present this exhibition, he said.
“Hosting the event within the premises of an iconic institution in Alexandria, a city with such an extraordinary history for many prominent Greeks throughout the centuries, strikes a sensitive chord within all Greeks, both expatriates and those living in our homeland.”
Chrysoulakis believes that this exhibition, which highlights the evolution of Greek thought — with its unparalleled impact on a number of scientific, technical, and artistic fields — will make a decisive contribution to the promotion of all the technological achievements that led the ancient Greek civilisation to its current standing in the world.
For this reason, Chrysoulakis expressed his warmest gratitude to Bibliotheca Alexandrina and personally to its Director, Mostafa El-Feki, for hosting this grandiose event.
Moreover, Chrysoulakis pointed out that there will be a parallel lecture by Professor Christos Arampatzis, president of the Supervisory Committee of the Hellenic Institute of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies in Venice, on the Codex of Alexander, a most richly decorated Byzantine manuscript of the 14th century, fully decorated with 250 miniatures, which depict the life of Alexander the Great.
He said that one of the big joint-projects is the first interconnection between Europe and Africa in the Southeastern Mediterranean region.
On 19 October 2021, Egypt, Greece, and Cyprus met at the 9th Trilateral Cooperation and Coordination Summit in Athens to declare that they welcomed the signing of the agreement for the establishment of a trilateral electricity inter-connector.
Since 2014, Greece, Egypt, and Cyprus have established a trilateral cooperation mechanism based on a constructive regional dialogue platform that promotes close partnership and contributes to peace, stability, and regional cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean.
“This cooperation focuses especially on the respect of international law, the UN Charter’s principles, as well as the respect of good neighbourly relations, and results in very productive cooperation in areas of common interest, such as energy, tourism, shipping, technology, and environmental and diaspora issues,” he said.
Chrysoulakis emphasised that during the recent ninth trilateral summit held in Athens on 19 October — in the presence of our leaders of state and government — a memorandum of understanding on issues regarding diaspora was signed, “further strengthening and deepening our cooperation towards promoting common values and collective interest abroad and recognising the important role the presence and actions of the diaspora plays.”
Active participation of expatriate youths is encouraged in order to bring young people closer together through joint events and meetings at all levels.
In this respect, he said that he is proud of the ‘NOSTOS’ (Ancient Greek word for one’s return to home) programme, the flagship initiative for Greek expats.
This innovative initiative — which includes a visit by young people from each country — focuses on the youths of these countries and aims to further strengthen the ties of the young generations and the people of Egypt, Greece, and Cyprus.
Such ventures lay the groundwork for a deeper understanding between nations and countries and bring about major structural shifts at all levels.
“The most recent implementation of the programme was successfully unfurled in the summer of 2021, and we are looking forward to repeating this initiative in the future,” he added.
Appreciating Egyptian achievements
In these trying times, Egypt is one of the few countries that has managed to maintain positive growth in its economy, which is a major accomplishment, said Chrysoulakis.
He stressed that the health and economic crisis caused by the pandemic underscores the importance of advancing the human capital agenda, moving towards a resilient economy, dealing with the climate crisis, and strengthening social cohesion.
“To this vision, I understand that new cities — like New Cairo — are a strong catalyst, with smart infrastructures and big projects encapsulating technological innovations to the existing backbones,” he said.
Another one of these big projects, which was also signed during the ninth trilateral summit in October, is the agreement for the establishment of a trilateral electricity inter-connector.
According to Chrysoulakis, this agreement, along with the adoption of the statute of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF), is of great importance both geopolitically and in energy terms, not only for the three neighbouring countries, but also for the whole of Europe, since it is promoting an agenda of peace, cooperation, energy security, regional stability, and wealth for the broader MENA area and the European Union.
The impacts of the pandemic
Chrysoulakis said that the COVID-19 pandemic has posed, and probably still poses, serious threats to social and economic stability around the world.
“The pandemic knows no borders. However, despite all tensions and hardships, I consider myself an optimist,” he says.
“This moment in history reveals the basic realities of global interdependence and the value of international cooperation to tackle shared challenges. As the world emerges from the current crisis, it is essential that we create institutions and norms for closer collaboration so that we are better prepared to manage the next possible global crisis. Today, cooperation must be open, inclusive, partnership-based, and done with all the actors from civil society, local authorities, and also the diasporas.”
According to Chrysoulakis, the pandemic requires us to rethink the way we venture into new ambitious initiatives that bring countries closer together.
“I am extremely happy that Greece and Egypt have found new important possibilities to strengthen our bilateral cooperation in these difficult times,” he stressed.
Greek investments in Egypt
The portfolio of Greek investments in Egypt is estimated at €1.2 billion, with concentrations in cement manufacturing, oil and gas exploration and extraction, construction, food, manufacturing of building materials and paints, aluminum production, distribution and logistics, irrigation systems, banking, sea and air transportation, and training services.
In 2020, Greek direct investments in Egypt have mainly been realised in the sectors of financial services, real estate management, and wholesale, and have been estimated at €81 million, said Chrysoulakis.
“I believe that the strong economic presence of our country in Egypt, briefly outlined above, has laid the foundations for the better communication of our two peoples; besides, it is indicative of the excellent bilateral relations of Greece and Egypt. Despite the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on business and trade flows, the interest of Greek companies to invest in Egypt has remained strong,” he emphasised.
The Greek Cultural Centre in Cairo
The Greek Cultural Center in Cairo (GCCC), which was established on the basis of a bilateral agreement between Greece and Egypt has been facilitating for many years the access of Egyptians to Greek culture, serving as an important bridge between our two peoples.
It is administered by a council with the participation of the Greek ambassador while the Greek Community holds an active role, according to Chrysoulakis.
Greek language courses are one of the centre’s main activities, reflecting the strong interest of Egyptian students in the Greek language and culture.
The centre, which is directed by Christos Papadopoulos, also cooperates with several Egyptian universities’ departments of Ancient Greek or Modern Greek language and literature courses.
Furthermore, the GCCC collaborates with various cultural partnerships on cinema screenings, art exhibition initiatives, literature translation workshops, and maintaining its library resources.
Greek language classes are also offered by the Alexandrian branch of the Greek Cultural Foundation.
Chrysoulakis also added that the Greek film Director, Angelos Frantzis, was the guest of honour at the 37th Alexandria Mediterranean Countries Film Festival in September.
Also, the upcoming 43rd edition of the Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) is scheduled to screen three films co-produced either by Greek producers or filmed in Greece.
Chrysoulakis revealed that the future projects of the GCCC include the planning of a photo exhibition with photos from Egypt and Greece.
The GCCC will also celebrate in December in an online event the life of Constantine Cavafy, one of the most original and influential Greek poets of the 20th century, who lived in Alexandria.
The digital platform for learning Greek
StaEllinika.com, the official platform for learning Greek, is an ever-spreading initiative of the General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the SNF Centre For Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University (SFU) with support by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF).
The platform offers a full curriculum targeting beginners in schools and individuals at home through engaging lesson materials and rich interactive experiences.
Ever since its launch, it has been enthusiastically received, according to Chrysoulakis.
“So far, it has reached more than one million views in 157 countries and 32,000 registered students. We are very pleased by this feedback, because it proves the importance of this initiative as an innovative action in support of Greek schools abroad, spreading Greek language and culture around the world, both to our young expatriates and to those who wish to learn the Greek language and get to know Greek culture without barriers and frontiers.”
“I would also like to mention our cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs to promote the StudyinGreece.edu.gr portal, which is the official Gateway to the Greek academic world and serves as a ‘one stop gateway’ for the provision of information concerning study opportunities and everyday life in Greece and facilitates the networking between Greek and international academics and researchers,” he says.
It should be pointed out that 19 public universities around Greece offer about 140 international master’s programs taught in foreign languages (mainly English) in a broad range of disciplines: from theoretical fields such as archaeology and classics to scientific fields such as medicine, biology, physics, IT, computer science, engineering, and telecommunications, among others.
Additionally, undergraduate programmes for international students are already available in medicine and classical studies, while more are under design and will be available soon.
Greek Diaspora — History, Achievements, and Contributions to Greece
The Academy of Athens and the General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs will organise a one-day conference dedicated to the Greek Diaspora titled ‘Greek Diaspora — History, Achievements, and Contributions to Greece’, on 15 November.
Through this event, Chrysoulakis assured that both institutions aim to deliver an overall, objective, view on the two-way connection between Greeks or those of Greek ethnic background that live in other countries and their homeland.
Presentations by prominent experts and personalities will be hosted, focusing on various scientific and cultural fields, such as physical sciences, ethical and political sciences, as well as letters and the fine arts.
The Greek community in Egypt
According to Chrysoulakis, the small, but vibrant, Greek community in Egypt has deep historical roots.
Today, the largest communities are those in Cairo and Alexandria, followed by the Greek populations of Ismailiya, Port Said, and Kafr Al-Zayat.
A large number of active Greek associations and clubs, as well as schools and cultural centres, work towards the promotion of cultural exchanges, friendship, and further cooperation between our countries and peoples.
“These communities apart, I would like to stress the presence of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, with activities extending across the entire African continent, besides Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, dating back to the 6th century,” he said
“During my visit to Egypt, I will have the opportunity to hold a series of important meetings and symbolic visits. I will meet with his Beatitude Theodoros II, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa and with representatives of the Greek Community of Alexandria.”
“My programme also includes the laying of a wreath at the Greek Memorial in Al-Alamein, a visit to the Tositseio Elementary School of Alexandria, a visit to the Averofeio Greek School, a visit to the Cavafy Museum, as well as to the model nursing home ‘Manna’ of the Hellenic Community of Alexandria,” he says.