Reflections on the U.S.-Egypt Relationship:
Remarks by U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Thomas Goldberger at the
General Meeting and Iftar of the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt
May 28, 2019
Thank you very much for the kind introduction. I certainly feel like I am among friends. The Embassy and the AmCham have been close partners and I look forward to continuing and deepening our cooperation with the new board under Dr. Sherif Kamel’s leadership. Our friend Tarek Tawfik and the outgoing board deserve our highest praise and appreciation for all of the work we have done together. We will miss you in this role but I know that our personal and professional relationships will continue. Thank you for your service.
As I draw close to concluding my fifth year in Cairo, I thought that I would share some of my thoughts and reflections on what the United States and Egypt have been through together during this time and how we can build on that experience for the future.
Since the day I arrived in early September 2014, I have been deeply impressed by the resilience and fortitude of the Egyptian people, who at that time had suffered through more than three years of political and economic turmoil, misrule, and confusion. President Sisi took office shortly before I arrived and, at about the same time as I got here, announced the Suez Canal Expansion project. Ordinary Egyptians withdrew from their personal savings in a sign of trust and confidence in the future. I remember my first meeting within a week of my arrival with the leaders of this organization and a visiting American business delegation. I heard from the Egyptian business people their relief that stability had come back to the country and that they could, as one of them said, confidently resume long-term planning for growth and expansion. That was the tone that was set early on for my tenure here.
Since that time, I have devoted every effort, and our Embassy has devoted every effort to rebuilding and reaffirming the historic and strategic partnership between the United States and Egypt. The Embassy, like other institutions at the time, had gone into a kind of shell and had neglected in many ways some of its best and longest standing Egyptian friends. So, one of our first efforts was to begin to come out of the shell and to take up a positive agenda on behalf of a strong, mutually beneficial relationship. In so doing, our partnership with this organization, the AmCham, was vital, and we turned to you for support and friendship. I think it goes without saying that the AmCham is Egypt’s premier private sector organization, and that its members are friends and advocates for a relationship that has brought so many benefits to both countries. So please allow me to again express my appreciation for all of the excellent work we have done together.
Our first task at the Embassy was to reaffirm and restore the people-to-people partnerships that I believe are the fundamental basis of the close ties between our countries. We often refer to the security partnership or to economic cooperation as the relationship’s backbone, but our philosophy has been deeper. Confidence and trust at the level of the public and individual human beings is the soul of the relationship and without strong personal bonds we could not accomplish anything else of importance.
It helps that Americans and Egyptians fundamentally seem to like each other and like being with each other. We quickly develop human rapport despite the differences between our societies. In this respect, it has been a real pleasure to see the return of so many American visitors to Egypt. According to the latest statistics, the number of Americans coming here for tourism is approaching or reaching the high point of a decade ago. When Americans come here, they do much more than support the economy: they go home with a positive vision and sympathetic outlook that money can’t buy. I often say to the many official visitors that the embassy supports that there is no substitute for coming to Egypt. Almost every visitor’s preconceptions and expectations are challenged and changed by what they find on the ground and they learn from seeing the reality and hearing from real Egyptians face to face.
The Embassy’s cultural and educational exchange programs have supported these people to people ties. The Fulbright Program, through which over 7,000 Egyptians and Americans have been educated for 70 years, is stronger than ever. This school year, over 100 Egyptians are studying or teaching in the United States, and American Fulbright scholars and students are coming back to Egypt. I had the chance recently to meet Fulbright alumni at Minya University and to see the impact that Fulbright has had and is having around the country. The embassy has also sent hundreds of Egyptians to the United States for short term visits, and brought American culture, in the form of musicians, performers, artists, athletes, and speakers to Egypt. I have personally, along with Eden [who I am very happy is here tonight], enjoyed the Embassy’s support for the Cairo Symphony and to the great cultural institution that Egypt has in the Dar el Opera.
One pillar of the people to people ties that shows their strength and longevity is the American University in Cairo, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. An entirely Egyptian institution today, AUC is thriving and offers an American model of education based on curiosity, exploration and critical thinking.
A less well-known program that the Embassy supports is English language training for high school students, the so-called Access program, through which thousands of high school students throughout Egypt have learned the essentials of spoken and written English in a three year intensive after-school program. It is very impressive to attend their graduation ceremonies and to hear from hundreds of enthusiastic young people how the accomplishment of learning a language changed the way they look at the world and showed them their potential to thrive in it.
Of course, in this room, I can’t overlook the personal ties that business creates. The friendships forged in business also go beyond utilitarian ends. So many Americans have told me how much their years working in Egypt have meant to them. They could have a job any place but they choose to work and raise their families here because of the personal and emotional ties they quickly forge. Similarly, many Egyptian business people have told me how their experiences working in the United States or for an American company have changed the course of their lives. Interestingly, business, perhaps like education, exposes Egyptians to the diversity and richness of American society: New York and California of course, but also Texas, Minnesota, South Carolina and small towns throughout the country have welcomed and embraced so many Egyptians.
And American companies here in Egypt provide much more than financial investment and jobs to individual Egyptians. These companies inculcate the American way of doing business, educate and improve their employees through new challenges and experiences, support their local communities, and maintain the highest personnel and environmental and safety standards. The number of Egyptians in leadership positions in major American corporations shows the way American companies treat their Egyptian employees and the skill and potential of Egyptians. We are very proud of the contributions of those companies to Egypt and are excited that new American companies are coming. We see this in the trade data that shows in just two years a 50% increase in bilateral trade supported by the strong performance of the American and Egyptian economies, where businesses are creating jobs and wealth for ordinary people as government gets out of the way. And investment is a two-way street. A number of Egyptian companies have invested in the United States and we look forward to more. A strong Egyptian corporate delegation is attending the SelectUSA Summit in Washington in June, joining 3000 other companies to learn about investment opportunities in the United States and federal, state and local programs that support foreign investors.
Our military relationship, the backbone that I mentioned, is also fundamentally about people and personal ties as much as it is about the provision of military equipment and other forms of support, however important these may be. Many of the American generals and admirals who come to visit tell me that their formative experience with Egyptians was during Operation Desert Storm; together on the battlefield during the campaign to liberate Kuwait. Similarly, Egyptian generals recall their youthful days training side by in American military schoolhouses or jumping from aircraft together during exercises. These ties are forged at every level of the military. One of the most important accomplishments of the last five years has been the return of Bright Star, the signature joint military exercise in the Middle East and the cornerstone of our ability to work together to combat the many challenges in the region. Combined with more visits of U.S. Navy ships to Egyptian ports, the value of American and Egyptian soldiers and sailors getting to know each other as people is immeasurable as we confront shared challenges.
This cooperation is irreplaceable in our joint fight against terrorism. We have all suffered from terrorism, but Egypt has suffered more than its share. The United States stands strongly with the Egyptian government and the Egyptian people in fighting this evil, making use of all of the many law enforcement, prosecutorial, and other tools at our mutual disposal. And this is more than nice words: Our enhanced cooperation against terrorist groups is not helped by describing it in public, but I can assure you that we have made great strides and that both of our countries are more secure thanks to the unprecedented collaboration that is happening as we meet.
As this region of the world suffers from unprecedented chaos and uncertainty, we also know that we can count on American-Egyptian diplomatic ties as a strong rock. Top U.S. and Egyptian diplomats are meeting and coordinating all the time, and we both know that we cannot achieve our security goals in the region without each other. The repeated exchanges of visits and meetings by our senior military commanders is the strongest evidence of the value that we both place on this regional cooperation. At the same time, Egypt’s diplomatic contributions are constructive as we work together closely and collaboratively on many issues. I had the chance to observe this synergy first hand at the highest level during President Sisi’s visit to Washington in early April. He and President Trump clearly have built a personal rapport through which they can discuss the most sensitive issues frankly and confidentially.
At the same time, our development cooperation program with Egypt is thriving. USAID, which manages the program, is concentrating its work on support for education, economic growth, healthcare, and governance. All told, the financial value of this has been over $30 billion since 1978. The benefits it has brought in terms of better lives and futures for young people are immeasurable, for example the clean drinking water that tens of millions of Cairenes have access to thanks to USAID support for the Holding Company for Water and Wastewater. We have aligned our programs in support of Egypt’s economic and social aspirations and are very pleased by the excellent cooperation with the Ministry of Investment and International Cooperation and with all of our partners in government and civil society.
Living in Egypt has given me the opportunity to get to know Egypt’s great and diverse society. I have traveled throughout the country and met hundreds of people working to improve their country. I have benefited from meeting many of your religious leaders and leaders and members of non-governmental organizations who contribute so much to a strong and resilient society. This is an experience that I have been able to share with many leading Americans to whom we strive to give the opportunity to hear from citizens from all walks of life.
Looking forward, Egypt is tackling numerous challenges at the same time. This is creating new dynamics and new potentials for a more diverse and solid relationship with the United States. For example, fundamental changes in economic policy and a currency determined by market forces make Egypt a much more attractive and predictable place than it had been for American companies to do business and invest. Reforms of the educational system are generating a lot of interest from U.S. institutions of higher education in coming to Egypt and in creating branch campuses. In March, we inaugurated three new educational partnerships between Egyptian and American universities and brought a high level university delegation to meet Egyptian counterparts and look at opportunities in the New Administrative Capital. We are also promoting study in the USA as the best place for Egyptian students wanting to pursue degrees abroad.
Infrastructure and energy investment offer unprecedented opportunities for American firms to contribute to Egypt’s prosperity. Addressing fundamental problems in the region, including the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians, will further change the regional dynamic and open the door even wider to vast new opportunities for Egyptians and Americans.
When Secretary Pompeo was here in January, he delivered a key speech on U.S. foreign policy at the American University. He emphasized that the United States is not and will not be absent from this region. We aim to be a force for good that stands by our friends and is firm in deterring our adversaries’ aggression and threats and in standing against extreme ideologies. We want to do this in partnership and in coalition with countries that share our values. Thus, we seek an even stronger long-term partnership with Egypt in all dimensions. A strong Egypt is in American interests just as a strong and robust United States is in Egypt’s interest.
These are great aspirations. None of them, however, will happen by themselves and without the hard work of committed individuals and organizations. This is why we need and want to work with the American Chamber of Commerce and appreciate everything that all of you do to build stronger ties and relationships between the great people of Egypt and the great people of the United States. It has been a pleasure knowing and working with you all and my colleagues and I wish you every success.