Egypt and Spain have strong relations, but they have not fulfilled the full potential of their relationship. In this article, Alvaro Iranzo Gutiérrez, the ambassador of Spain to Cairo, explains how the bilateral relations between Egypt and Spain have witnessed remarkable development in recent years, and the huge potential for further development, especially in the economic fields.
“There are clear complementarities between our two countries, and the trade exchange figures over the past two years are showing a clear uptick, which is evidence that our bilateral relationship is in good health,” said the Spanish ambassador.
He mentioned that the increase in mutual visits in recent years (President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi visited Spain in 2015 and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez visited Cairo in December 2021) has also strengthened the practical implementation of the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation signed in 2010.
Out of affirmation of the common desire to continue working on political dialogue, Spain’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs Arancha Gonzalez visited Egypt in October 2020 and Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry visited Madrid in April 2022.
In September 2022, Spanish Minister of State for Trade Ziana Mendez visited Cairo to participate in multilateral conferences organized by the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (ICEX), and met with Egypt’s Minister of Trade and Industry and Minister of Planning.
Last November, a large Spanish delegation, headed by PM Pedro Sanchez, visited Sharm El-Sheikh to participate in the climate summit COP27.
Trade: Spain ranks second in terms of Egyptian imports in 2022
The Ambassador said that the bilateral trade between Spain and Egypt has grown significantly in recent years.
Gutiérrez said that in 2022 the trade exchange between the two countries reached €4.5bn, in which Spanish exports to Egypt decreased by 1.5% to €1.569bn, while Egypt’s imports from Spain increased by 146% to €2.93bn.
As a result, Spain became Egypt’s second trade partner in 2022, jumping from the seventh position it occupied in 2021, as a result of the increase in Egyptian LNG imports to Spain, in the context of Spanish diversification of supplies and a greater increase in supply from Egypt thanks to the reopening of the LNG terminal in Damietta in 2021 (built by the Spanish Union Fenosa Company).
At the same time, on the list of the largest exporters to Egypt, Spain occupied the 15th place in 2022. The list of Spanish exports to Egypt included machinery, mechanical devices, vehicles, tractors, electrical appliances, copper and manufactures, while Spain imported from Egypt fuel, mineral oils, plastics, iron and steel, fertilizers, and wrought clothing.
Investment: €809m in cumulative investments and €400m in bilateral financing
The Spanish ambassador said that according to the latest data of the investment registry of the Ministry of State for Trade, the volume of Spanish investments in Egypt is estimated at €809m.
“Since 1998, Spain has concluded a financial protocol to finance projects of Spanish companies with the Egyptian administration. During the visit of the Spanish Prime Minister, a joint declaration on financing was signed, according to which Spain made available to Egypt up to €400m in bilateral financing on concessional terms,” the ambassador said.
Among the most prominent projects recently funded by the Egyptian and Spanish sides:
1- Construction by Gamesa of the Jabal Al Zayt Bay wind farm with a capacity of 120 megawatts, at a value of €119.2m.
2- Protection and lighting of some archaeological sites at a cost of €30m.
3- Rehabilitation of 23 trains of the first line of the Greater Cairo Metro, is being implemented by the Construction Auxiliary Company for Railways (CAF) at a cost of €158.9m.
4- Signing a contract between Talgo and Egyptian Railways in August 2022 to acquire 7 new sleeper trains, including maintenance for a period of 15 years, at a value of €200m.
Tourism: 180,000 Spanish tourists visited Egypt in 2022
Tourism, which has traditionally been one of the most important sectors of the Egyptian economy, is gradually recovering, and despite the invasion of Ukraine, the country received about 12 million tourists in 2022.
“Much of this recovery is due to Spanish tourism, which has grown steadily to reach 180,000 tourists in 2022,” said the ambassador.
The Egyptian Minister of Tourism attended the last session of the Spanish International Travel and Tourism Fair (FITUR) this year and met with the Minister of State Rosana Murillo. The goal is to double the number of Spanish visitors to Egypt in 2023, which will be contributed by the upcoming opening of additional flights from Madrid to Cairo and Luxor.
Cooperation: 21 projects are being implemented with €11m investments
For Spain, Egypt occupies an advanced position in the fields of cooperation, according to the fifth master plan for cooperation.
The Spanish ambassador said that the global strategic goal is to contribute to increasing the capabilities of the state, its institutions and civil society, in order to support sustainable and equitable social and economic development. Gender equality is one of the hallmarks of Spanish cooperation in Egypt, highlighting actions aimed at creating job opportunities for women and strengthening social protection.
“The Spanish government announced the doubling of international cooperation funds in 2023, and therefore an increase in the bilateral budget with Egypt is expected. The total volume of official development assistance provided in the past period 2015-2021 amounted to nearly €50m,” the ambassador said.
The new program plan also defines four areas of action: combating poverty, gender equality, just environmental transformation, green economy and immigration.
“The Spanish International Agency for Development Cooperation is currently implementing 21 projects with a total budget of €11m, covering the sectors of gender equality, water, rehabilitation and employment, democratic governance, institutional strengthening and cultural cooperation,” said the ambassador.
Cultural & scientific relations: 12 archaeological missions, 20 Spanish language departments, and 2 Instituto Cervantes branches
The Spanish ambassador stressed that Spain and Egypt share an exceptional historical and cultural heritage which helped cultural exchange over the centuries.
“We pride ourselves in Spain for the rich Arab and Islamic heritage that Egyptian travelers and travelers from all over the world regularly visit and enjoy. At the same time, the extraordinary Egyptian historical and cultural heritage attracts more and more Spaniards and is a very fertile ground for cultural relations between our two countries.”
Gutiérrez said that Egypt and Spain enjoy excellent cooperation in various fields: Spanish language, Egyptology, theatrical arts, especially flamenco and dramatic art.
“Spain regularly participates in various cultural events such as the Cairo International Book Fair, the Cairo Jazz Festival, the Cairo International Film Festival, the Alexandria Mediterranean Countries Festival, the Alexandria and Qena-Luxor Theater Festivals, and the Small Theater Festival in Cairo and Alexandria, exhibitions of contemporary art, such as Art D´Egypte, among many other events,” he added.
The ambassador said that the Instituto Cervantes, with its campuses in Cairo and Alexandria, which has already regained its pre-COVID-19 level of academic activity, is making significant efforts to promote DELE programmes as a way to enhance access to Spanish and Ibero-American universities.
“More than 6,000 Spanish language students receive higher education courses in 20 Egyptian public and private universities. The number of Spanish language departments in Egyptian universities has increased in recent years and already exceeds 20. All this represents a significant increase in the number of Spanish language teachers and the consequent special qualification,” the ambassador added.
Spain has 12 archaeological missions in different Egyptian sites such as Saqqara, Luxor, Aswan, and Wadi El Gemal. They do scientific work on annual, month-long expeditions. Its presence also works to provide training courses for officials of the Ministry of Antiquities and Tourism (the most recent of which was held in Aswan in December 2022, on museum systems, and in Cairo in February 2023 on marketing and cultural management).
Currently, several Egyptian museums display the results of the Spanish excavations: Luxor Archaeological Museum, Djehuti and Minister Amenhotep Huy’s expedition, Nubian Museum in Aswan, Qubbet el-Hawa expedition.
“Sport is also an important part of our cultures and for this reason it is necessary to emphasize the great reception that the dissemination of Spanish sporting events has had in Egypt. Football is undoubtedly the most followed sport by the Egyptian public, which is a factor that contributes greatly to raising awareness of Spain in Egypt,” said the ambassador.