The 60th Anniversary of the Establishment of Australia-Egypt Diplomatic Relations

Cairo, Egypt

Speech, check against delivery, EO&E

10 December 2010

It gives me great pleasure to be here in Cairo to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Australia and Egypt.

I know that in Arabic, Egypt is renowned as ‘Um al Dunya' - mother of the world.

This encapsulates perfectly Egypt’s place as witness to the march of more than 5000 years of history – from the Pharaohs, to the Greeks, the Romans, the Christians, the Arabs and then Islam.

The monument in which we stand tonight is a tribute to another period of Egypt’s long history, the Mamluk Sultanate.

I was interested to read that the man who built it – Sultan Qansuh al-Ghuri, the second to last of the Mamluk sultans – is not actually buried in the mausoleum on which he lavished so much attention and care.

But through it the legacy of the Mamlukes lives on, allowing us a small window into the early 16th century.

But this great building is just one relatively recent example of this nation’s treasures.

Part of the glory that was classical and ancient Egypt.

Ancient Egypt also pioneered new methods of building, of agriculture and of irrigation; of mathematics and of medicine; of navigation.

Egypt throughout its history has exercised a powerful influence on the imagination of the world.

One of the first books I was given as a young boy in rural Australia was on Egyptian archaeology.

Had I not chosen politics and diplomacy, Egyptian archaeology, taught brilliantly at the University of Sydney, came close to capturing my heart and may have brought me to Egypt much earlier – and in a different more scholarly capacity.

Egypt today remains influential in the affairs of the world.

Egypt is a leader in both the Arab League and in the African Union.

Egypt continues to play an important role in regional peace and security.

Egypt was, of course, the first Arab country to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, after signing a peace treaty in 1979.

This was a courageous and far-sighted act.

Egypt has played a key role in trying to bring about a negotiated peace to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Egypt’s place at the crossroads of commerce and culture is not only of global importance, it has played a part in Australia’s growth as a nation.

From 1869, traffic between Europe and Australia passed through Egypt’s Suez Canal.

This new route significantly shortened travel times, bolstering Australia’s population and trade.

Later, Egypt remained critical to Australia’s links with the rest of the world, with Cairo remaining – for many years – the main air link between Australia and London.

During World War 1, some 20,000 Australian troops were stationed on what are now the grounds of the Oberoi Mena House Hotel, at the foot of the Pyramids.

For the young Australians, who found themselves in an ancient land, on the edge of a city renowned for its style and culture, it was a time to remember.

In World War II, Australia suffered many casualties in this region.

Nearly four thousand young Australians lie dead, or are commemorated, in 15 war cemeteries, in Egypt.

Thank you for caring still for these, our sons, in the ancient soil of your land.

Despite the passing years, this area is still affected by the terrible legacy of those World War II battles.

Australia provides funding through the United Nations Development Program to support Egypt’s demining efforts in the Western Desert – part of our $100 million global commitment to removing these inhumane devices from the countries across the world – so that ordinary people can live in security.

In 1950, Australia and Egypt established diplomatic relations, as we opened our first embassy in the Arab world here in Cairo.

This reflected our long history of cooperation on:

  • regional peace and security;
  • growing trade relations; and
  • our warm people-to-people links.

We have built substantially on these interests over the past 60 years.

Regional peace and security remains an important focus of our relationship, particularly the challenge of achieving an enduring peace in the Middle East.

Australia shares Egypt’s position that a long-term solution must allow both Israel and a future Palestinian state to live side by side in peace and security. We know that time is not our ally and that politics as usual won’t suffice.

Australia values the important contribution of the Arab Peace Initiative to efforts to achieve a lasting peace.

The Australian Government strongly believes Israel and the Palestinians need to continue direct negotiations, with a view to implementing the two-state solution. At the UN on 25 September this year I said that all states should welcome the prospect of an Israeli and a Palestinian state both being represented at the General Assembly next year.

Australia has made long-term practical contributions to regional peace.

We are proud to be one of a small number of countries to have served, continuously, since 1982, with the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai.

Australia views it as an integral part of international efforts to support peace and stability in the Middle East.

This is one of more than 50 UN peace keeping operations Australia has been active in across the world, involving more than 65000 Australian Defence Force personnel.

As a founding member, Australia has long been an active supporter of the United Nations from the very beginning.

Beyond the Middle East, Egypt also plays an important role in supporting peace and security in Africa.

Egypt has deployed more than 2000 personnel to the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur; Australia has also contributed to the UN Mission in Sudan.

Early next year this region will witness a referendum on the possible independence of southern Sudan as required under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

Australia recognises that Egypt has a vital interest in a stable Sudan.

Indeed we consider a stable Sudan essential to both East Africa and the Horn as a whole.

Australia is watching preparations for the referendum closely. Like Egypt, we are one of a few countries outside Sudan where voting in the referendum will take place.

We join the international community in urging all parties in Sudan to abide by their commitments under the CPA and to resolve their outstanding differences peacefully.

We urge that the referendum be conducted in a free and fair fashion, and that its outcome be respected by all.

We commend and support the efforts of the Head of the African Union's High-Level Implementation Panel on Sudan, President Thabo Mbeki, to bridge the differences between the two sides.

I reaffirm today that Australia has a long-term commitment to Sudan.

I announced on 16 November a $9 million package of assistance to support the conduct of the referendum and to fund vital maternal and child health activities in Sudan.

This assistance will build on $113 million Australia has provided in humanitarian assistance since 2004.

Australia has also deployed Australian Defence Force and Australian Federal Police peacekeepers to the United Nations Mission in Sudan. Australia will continue to work with Egypt, the United Nations, the African Union and the international community to tackle security and development challenges in Sudan.

Australia wants to work with Africa, which includes Egypt as a key leader, to make a greater contribution to African development, to African security and to Africa’s global engagement. Australia has opened a new embassy in Ethiopia, to further bilateral relations and also to engage fully with the African Union. In the last several years, we have more than doubled our overseas development assistance to Africa and have begun expanding our diplomatic footprint.

Australia is also one of the largest mining countries in the world.

There are around 550 Australian resources projects active across the African continent, including here in Egypt. We look forward to working with all the countries of the continent in this and other industries in the future.

Ladies and gentlemen, Egypt and Australia have changed substantially over the past 60 years.

Egypt posted impressive GDP growth of 4.6 per cent last year. Egypt has undertaken reforms that have helped boost its standard of living. Exports have tripled in value, and some $46 billion in foreign investment flooded into Egypt in the 5 years to 2009.

Australia too has changed over the past 60 years.

We have undertaken important reforms that have underpinned our economic growth.

Our economy is now the 13th largest in the world, and the fourth largest in Asia, behind China, India and Japan.

Australia is the 12th largest contributor to the United Nations; we are a member of the G20; we are active in or with all of the major councils of the world.

Australia sees itself as a middle power with global interests.

Australia has become fundamentally enmeshed with Asia, a region that is projected to account for 40 per cent of the world’s GDP by 2030.

Australia has built strong links with regional partners, such as China and India.

Equally Australia is an Indian Ocean nation and we are engaged in the emerging institutions of the Indian Ocean.

As Australia and Egypt engage with the world, and the range of challenges we face, it’s clear that we have important common interests to prosecute in the world at large.

These are grounds for weaving a new fabric of cooperation.

Today Egypt and Australia share important interests in food security. Egypt is the world’s biggest importer of wheat and a net agricultural importer. Australia also has important interests in food security, particularly in the impact of food price volatility.

I want to explore with Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit the potential for us to work together and pursue common interests in the area of food security.

Likewise, water management and the challenges of dry land agriculture are areas that could open new avenues for cooperation.

Through joint agricultural research, and the Australia Award scholarships, we will deepen our cooperation with Egypt in these important areas.

We will also seek to do more to foster the growing people-to-people links which enhance understanding and goodwill.

In Australia, we have nearly 350,000 muslim Australians, nearly 400,000 Arab Australians of whom tens of thousands are of Egyptian origin.

Egyptian Australians make a valuable contribution in all areas of our society and some 60,000 Australians visit Egypt each year, drawn by attractions such as the one in which we stand tonight.

We are delighted that the celebrated Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs’ exhibition will open in Melbourne in April.

This exhibition – the most impressive collection of Tutankhamun artefacts ever assembled outside of Egypt – is eagerly awaited by the many Australians who are fascinated by the splendours of ancient Egypt.

Ladies and gentlemen.

I see this visit – the first bilateral visit to Egypt by an Australian Foreign Minister for some years – very much in the vein of an old friendship renewed.

When I look at the globe on my desk I see that, physically, Egypt is distant from Australia. But in our interconnected world this should not (nor will it) define our relationship.

Global challenges mean that we have new and important shared interests, as well as our longstanding interest in a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. These challenges should be the impetus for us to frame a new concept of bilateral cooperation, in which we prosecute common interests across the various multilateral councils of the world.

We should seek to open a new chapter in our bilateral relations that will renew this important relationship for the challenging century that lies ahead.


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