Compiled by: Hany Abdel Fattah
Over the past year, Switzerland’s close relationship to Egypt has continued to develop significantly. The celebration of Switzerland’s National Day in Egypt is an ideal occasion to reflect on our two countries’ partnership, which draws on more than a century and a half of rich commercial and cultural exchanges.
As far back as 1870, Alexandrians could find the world’s first infant prepared cereals, “Farine Lactée” by the Swiss company Nestlé, in one of their city’s grocery stores. Then, through the end of the 19th century, the impressive growth of Swiss-Egyptian trade relations saw a great number of Swiss merchants, innkeepers and teachers settle in Egypt. This led to the establishment of a first Swiss trade representation in 1909, which was followed by the opening of a chancellery in Cairo in 1935.
During those years – and up to this day – Switzerland was an important customer of Egypt’s cotton and textile industry. Accordingly, Swiss-Egyptian trade further increased and started spreading to new sectors, including infrastructure and pharma. While the newly established Swiss chancellery was accompanying this evolution, it grew steadily throughout the years and became a full-fledged Embassy in 1957.
Therefore, while the year 2022 marks 65 years of the Swiss Embassy’s presence in Egypt, our countries’ diplomatic, cultural and economic relations go back way further.
Today, the Embassy actively engages in building upon this legacy, which in recent decades has led some of Switzerland’s most important multinationals and industry leaders to establish factories, create jobs, and more generally invest in the Egyptian economy.
In the pharma sector for example, the Embassy accompanied this year the signature of important agreements, including one between the Egyptian Unified Procurement Authority (UPA) and SwissCham, the Swiss-Egyptian Business Association, which lays the ground for further Swiss investment in the healthcare sector in Egypt. With a similar aim of building long-term relations in the healthcare sector, another agreement was signed between Swiss company Roche and the Egyptian Gypto Pharma, which will help localise some of Roche’s high-tech production in Egypt.
Swiss investment in the Egyptian economy has followed identical trends in other industries too: Nestlé, Hero, Lafarge Holcim, Schindler, Novartis, Sika, Givaudan and ABB, to name just a few, provide together thousands of jobs to Egyptians in the food and beverages, construction and technology sectors in Cairo and beyond. It is also worth noting that Switzerland is keeping up with its large direct investment inflows in Egypt. Last year, our country was the 8th biggest source of foreign investment in Egypt. This is a clear sign that Egypt, besides being Switzerland’s most important export partner in Africa, attracts a great deal of interest for Swiss businesses and investors, for instance in the context of the impressive infrastructure development projects currently ongoing in Egypt.
Furthermore, Egypt’s selection as the host country for this year’s COP27 and Switzerland’s active presence in the preparations for this important event allow for an even closer co-operation in tackling climate change. Switzerland is following with great interest the efforts to turn Sharm el-Sheik into a “green city”. It is supporting Egypt’s transition to a green economy.
Alongside their strong economic relations, Switzerland and Egypt have knit an intense co-operation for more than 40 years now. We work aligned with the Egyptian Government towards reaching the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and implementing Egypt’s Vision 2030. This partnership ranges from Human Rights and governance to green growth, through water and waste management as well as the protection of vulnerable populations.
The Embassy’s Office for International co-operation (OIC) has been, among other things, actively supporting a dialogue between civil society and the State for an enhanced protection of children in contact with the law and the courts.
Switzerland is also engaged in improving access to potable water. 65,000 inhabitants of Khor Awada benefited from a new water reservoir, pumping station and piping infrastructure this year, which are a part of the Swiss Potable Water Management Programme in Aswan.
The Embassy’s OIC has also been working closely with Egypt on the management of several waste streams, including solid waste, hospital waste and e-waste, setting up relevant infrastructure which helped the design and adoption of new laws and regulations such as the “New Waste Management Law”.
Focusing on green growth, Switzerland has supported Egypt with its maiden sovereign green bonds issuance. Switzerland has also been financing innovation in rural economies in Egypt for over a decade, creating over 50.000 employment opportunities on the way for farmers, fishermen, entrepreneurs, women and youth along various value chains.
In the business and entrepreneurship domain, Switzerland’s co-operation projects also work to improve the business environment and the access to finance for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME). In this context, OIC has enabled over 200.000 women in Egypt to access loans in order to start businesses.
Finally, Switzerland is also actively engaged in the prevention of human smuggling and trafficking. Through several different projects, Switzerland supports the Government in its efforts regarding protection and integration of refugees and migrants, as well as giving them access to basic social services. It also promotes their skills development and employability in Egypt.
Beyond their economic and international co-operation partnership, Switzerland and Egypt share a common affinity towards cultural matters, from the preservation of heritage to the promotion of new artists and creations. This year has witnessed both these aspects of the cultural portfolio flourish between our two countries.
Egypt is a country with a civilisation thousands of years old and has a cultural heritage that is both amazing and unique. The visit of an Egyptian delegation from the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities to Switzerland helped further the discussion on our joint fight against the illegal transfer of cultural property. This endeavour has already been successful in August of last year, when the Egyptian Embassy in Switzerland received a collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts from the Swiss Federal Office of Culture, within the framework of an agreement signed by our two countries in 2010 on the return and transfer of illegally acquired artefacts to their original homeland.
As for figurative and performing arts, the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia’s Cairo antenna supported numerous Swiss and Egyptian artists in residencies in both of our countries. Thanks to these grants, Swiss artists were able to learn from the buzzing Egyptian art scene and some of its methods. Changes in contemporary art and performance, faience and glassblowing, as well as mummification processes were among the objects of study and practice of Swiss beneficiaries of grants in Egypt. Pro Helvetia also organised several festivals in Cairo.
The Embassy is happy to accompany Swiss and Egyptian government bodies, institutions, companies and individuals involved in the blooming of our two countries’ relations, and looks forward to furthering their work in every one of these important fields. Switzerland and Egypt have a lot to learn from each other and contribute one for another, and will build upon their heritage of exchange for many years to come!
Discussion about this post