Egypt is the first Arab country with which Bulgaria established diplomatic relations back in 1926. Bulgaria opened a legation in Cairo in 1933, followed by Egypt, which opened its diplomatic representation on Sofia in 1938. In 1958 the two countries elevated their legations to the status of Embassies.
In an interview with The Egyptian Mail, Bulgarian Ambassador in Egypt Deyan Angelov Katratchev highlighted the spheres of joint cooperation between the two countries and discussed recent geopolitical changes on international level.
Active political dialogue
Bulgaria and Egypt maintain active political dialogue at various levels. Since 2018 there has been an intense exchange of high-level visits. Bulgarian President Rumen Radev paid a visit to Egypt in March 2019. The Bulgarian Prime Minister visited Egypt on three occasions in 2019 and 2020. Last December the Bulgarian Minister of Economy visited Egypt and attended the EDEX 2021 exhibition.The Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry visited Bulgaria in November 2018.
“We expect President Sisi to pay a return visit to Bulgaria in the near future,” the ambassador said.
The ambassador went on to say that the two governments are working on preparing the first session of the Joint Commission for Cooperation, which was established during Minister Shukri’s visit to Sofia in 2018 and will be headed by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs.
“We look forward to the EU-LAS Ministerial meeting in October and to the COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh where Bulgaria will be represented by the Prime Minister”.
The envoy said Egypt is still Bulgaria’s largest and most promising partner in the region. The ambassador also referred to Prime Minister Petkov’s meeting with President Sisi in Brussels on the margins of the EU-Africa Summit in February.
“Both sides reaffirmed their desire to upgrade the relationship and outlined the big potential for cooperation,” he added.
“Now that the geopolitical landscape has been radically changed both sides need to find ways to elevate our relations by adding new strategic dimensions to our partnership.”
Promising energy partnership
Regarding energy, the ambassador referred to the decision by the Russian energy supplier Gazpom to halt the gas supplies to Bulgaria in violation of the long-term agreement with Bulgaria. The Bulgarian government was compelled to urgently seek alternative gas supplies and started negotiations with allies and partners.
Simultaneously, Bulgaria is finishing the construction of the infrastructure that will allow it to be connected to the Southern Caspian Corridor. Just last week the Prime ministers of Bulgaria and Greece inaugurated the long-delayed pipeline between the two countries. The Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria )IGB) will have an initial capacity of 3 bcm, which can be expanded to 5 bcm/year. Besides, Bulgaria takes part in the construction of the floating terminal in Alexandroupolis, Greece, which will allow importing LNG from the world markets by the end of 2023.
“In this context Egypt positions itself as a very promising partner of Europe and Bulgaria in particular. We are very much interested in exploring the cooperation opportunities in the sphere of energy. In May, the Prime Minister Kiril Petkov had a productive meeting with the Egyptian Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Tareq el-Molla on the sidelines of the Davos World Economic Forum.
In early June the Bulgarian Minister of Energy met Minister el-Molla in Amman at the MENA Europe Future Energy Dialogue (MEFED).
“We appreciate the signing of the Memorandum for Understanding between the EU, Egypt and Israel that took place in Cairo on 15 June 2022. It will contribute to stepping up the cooperation with a particular focus on the stable delivery of gas to the EU, on renewable energy sources and hydrogen production.”
The ambassador also affirmed the huge potential for cooperation that exists in the field of energy security.” In these times of serious challenges in the European energy market we consider Egypt as a potential supplier of liquefied natural gas to Bulgaria and Southeastern Europe.”
UfM cooperation platform
As Egypt and Bulgaria are members of Union for the Mediterranean, the ambassador pointed out that UfM is an excellent platform for cooperation and dialogue on common challenges such as peace, security and economic development.
“Now that we are faced with a radically changed geopolitical environment, our cooperation has become more imperative than ever.”
So far, he continued, the UfM has identified and supported more than 60 regional cooperation projects, out of which 10 have been completed.
Leading trade partner
On economic level, the ambassador said Egypt has established itself as the leading trading partner of Bulgaria in the Middle East and North Africa. In 2019, the volume of bilateral trade hit the record level of $1.274 billion, with a positive balance for Egypt.
After a significant drop in 2020 due to the pandemic ($582.8 million), in 2021 we witnessed a slow recovery of trade, with the volume of exports and imports amounting to $590.8 million.
Bulgarian exports to Egypt consist mainly of refined petroleum oils, wheat, carbonates, refined copper and copper alloys in crude form and others. By the end of 2020 Egyptian investments in Bulgaria amounted to 8 million euros. The volume of Bulgarian investments in Egypt is also modest.
“Both governments need to make a greater effort to encourage investments in both directions.”
Bulgaria is an attractive investment destination, with government incentives for new investments in high-tech, electronics, ICT, medical equipment and automotive industries, in innovations and industrial parks, the envoy said.
Last December the Bulgarian Minister of Economy visited Egypt and attended the EDEX 2021 exhibition, which was held under the patronage of President Sisi. 12 Bulgarian companies participated in the exhibition, showcasing their latest products to the public.
COP27 to be a success
On environmental matters, the ambassador expressed his confidence that the COP27 will be a success. “Egypt is a very promising partner in this endeavour. We appreciate its readiness to serve as a bridge between Africa and Europe and prioritise the natural gas export to the EU.
“We welcome the commitments undertaken in the National Strategy for climate change that was released recently,” he added.
Bulgaria views positively Egypt’s concept of having a COP 27 that prioritises the implementation of the commitments undertaken in Glasgow.
Climate change is an important priority for the Bulgarian government. As EU member state Bulgaria shares the EU Green deal goal to reach climate neutrality by 2050 and strives to meet the commitments, including to the Nationally Determined Contributions.
“Bulgaria has been building the appropriate framework enabling the green transformation. We believe that the implementation of the commitments requires the participation of all stakeholders – national, both by developed and developing countries, regional and local authorities, the private sector, the scientific community, and the civil society.”
As a strong political signal of Bulgaria’s commitment to climate change issues the Council of Ministers has just decided to present Bulgaria’s candidacy for the Chairmanship of COP 29 in 2024.
Promoting tolerance, peaceful coexistence.
Meanwhile,the Bulgarian ambassador has always been keen on meeting the leaders of the religious authorities in Egypt.
“To me, as a graduate in Arabic and Islamic studies these meetings are of special importance from a professional point of view. It was a unique experience for me to discuss with His Eminences the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the Grand Mufti and His Holiness Pope Tawadros II the role of the religious institutions in Egypt, to hear about their efforts to promote tolerance, peaceful coexistence, interfaith dialogue, and a freedom of religion and belief. I was really pleased to get an insight into the workings of their institutions.”
The ambassador was impressed to learn about how religious and secular institutions in Egypt interact and cooperate in a very responsible manner in fostering a renewed religious discourse and a moderate religious narrative, in countering political Islam and radical thought.
“By having visited also the Observatory for digital fatwas I got a first-hand impression its efforts in countering takfiri fatwas. I was able to get more familiar with important features of the Egyptian model in countering extremism and terrorism.”
Promising areas for cooperation
According to the ambassador, Egypt and Bulgaria have the expertise, the potential and the capabilities to foster fruitful cooperation in a wide range of spheres.
“There is a significant potential to expand our cooperation in the field of energy and food security. Egypt is best positioned to play a more significant role in securing gas supplies to Bulgaria. In turn, Bulgaria, as a top 20 wheat producer country globally, with approximately 7, 2 mln. tons/year (more than half of it is exported), could contribute to supplying the needs of Egypt.”
I am happy to see that Bulgaria has emerged as an important wheat supplier for Egypt, which has already purchased significant quantities from Bulgarian producers and has booked shipments in the last tenders for the next months.
Bulgarian engineers and scientists are highly respected here and their expertise is appreciated and it is being used in large projects of strategic importance to Egypt, such as the nuclear plant in Dabaa.
The quality of the Bulgarian defense-related products – arms, munitions and military equipment – is also much appreciated by Egypt.
There is already an excellent cooperation between the scientific and research institutions of both countries. Just last November, the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and the Egyptian Academy for Scientific Research and Technology have signed a new Agreement for cooperation.
Tourism is also a promising area. Egypt has always been a popular tourist destination and prior to the pandemic there was an annual increase in tourists from Bulgaria.
“Bulgarians are attracted by the Red Sea’s beaches and resorts, but also more and more by the ancient Egyptian landmarks and the incredible Egyptian history.”
The ambassador was pleased to attend the opening ceremony of the Avenue of Sphinxes and was really impressed by this celebration of the Pharaonic heritage. A crew of the Bulgarian National TV recorded the whole ceremony and broadcasted it during prime time on 2 January, presented by renowned Bulgarian Egyptologists and archeologists. The crew used the opportunity to shoot a documentary dedicated to Egypt, its ancient heritage, the activities of the Bulgarian archeological expedition and the Bulgarian Egyptology.
“Let me also recognise the Bulgarian archeological mission in Egypt, which started its activities in Valley of the Nobles in Luxor in 2012. It is led by Prof. Lekov, head of the Bulgarian Institute of Egyptology the New Bulgarian University in Sofia and it is about to complete soon its excavation and recovery, conservation and publication of the tomb of the priest Piay (TT263) from the time of Ramses III. The mission showcases the achievements of the Bulgarian Egyptology, established as an academic discipline in Bulgaria some 35 years ago.”
Regarding the recent developments in Russian war against Ukraine, the ambassador stressed that as an EU and NATO member Bulgaria condemned in the strongest terms the unprovoked and unjustified Russian invasion in Ukraine. It is a flagrant violation of the International Law and the core principles of international order, he added.
Bulgaria supports Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.
“Bulgaria is doing its best to support Ukraine in these difficult times.”
The Bulgarian National Assembly, thus, entrusted the Government to provide humanitarian, financial and military-technical assistance to Ukraine. Bulgaria, as many other EU member states, opened its borders and some 370, 000 Ukrainian citizens, including women and children fleeing from the war have entered Bulgaria so far.
“We appreciate the fact that Egypt demonstrated its commitment to the UN Charter by supporting the UN General Assembly Resolution, which condemned the Russian aggression against Ukraine.” And “it is our common interest is to use all relevant fora to condemn this war and to call on the aggressor to end it immediately”, he added.
Here in Cairo, EU member states have shown all possible support to our Ukrainian partners. EU Ambassadors visited the Ukrainian Embassy on the day Russia started its invasion and expressed their solidarity and support.