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This Land Has More to Offer than the Pyramids
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Egypt maintains close contacts with all the parties in the Middle East conflicts and is seen as an influential player in the peace process. It has close contacts with both the Palestinian factions. In fact, it has been trying to initiate a dialogue between Hamas and Fatah ever since the former seized power from the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip. Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel, the other side in the conflict, almost 30 years ago, reflecting its belief in the power of peace.

"We have been involved in the Palestine-Israel conflict from the very beginning and we believe this conflict is the source of many other conflicts in the region," says Mahmoud Allam, Egypt's ambassador to China. After Hamas' violent takeover of Gaza, Egypt was one of the first countries to call for the resumption of dialogue. "I'm optimistic that eventually the dialogue will resume," he says.

"A dialogue should not be held just for the sake of dialogue, we have to get results to relieve the people of their suffering." And China, he says, has a role to play in this. "We are glad that China is engaging (in the peace process) by sending its special envoy (Sun Bigan) to the Middle East".

"We always consult with our Chinese friends to see what their position on the Middle East conflicts is. China has good relations with all the parties, including Israel, but its position is clear and based on international law" and the rights of the people suffering because of the decades-long Israel-Palestine conflict.

"We see the Chinese government as an important partner in restoring peace and stability not only in our region, but also the whole world." Allam says his country is aware of China's importance in the international community.

Last year, Egypt acknowledged China's status as a market economy, ushering in a new era of economic exchanges. That recognition was just part of an exercise Egypt has done to strengthen mutual ties.

China and Egypt established a strategic partnership back in 1999, and now it's time to translate the ideas into facts, the ambassador says. He knows China has a foreign reserve of US$1.3 trillion and that it needs channels for investment.

For China, Egypt offers a good base to expand its overseas investment destinations. This is especially important because of China's close ties with African countries. And that importance is reflected in Egypt being selected to host the 2009 China-Africa Summit.

Cooperation in nuclear energy generation with China is something Allam is especially interested in. China is one of those countries that has developed a safe and clean nuclear technology, so Egypt is looking seriously at it as one of the main partners in nuclear technology for civilian use, he says.

The two countries are already collaborating in making power generators, and their authorities are discussing the possibility of cooperation in nuclear technology, he says.

Egypt is a good base for nuclear science, though it doesn't use nuclear power for energy. Cairo has been planning to revive its nuclear energy program, which was frozen 20 years ago after the Chernobyl accident.

"We are not only concentrating on nuclear energy, but also looking for cooperation in alternative sources such as wind and solar energy."

A different sort of energy has been injected into the two countries' tourism industry. Egypt was chosen as the tourist destination for Chinese in 2002. Since then, tourist authorities in Egypt have done a lot to learn more about the needs of Chinese travelers and design special packages for them, Allam says.

"We are very much aware of how attractive Egypt is to the Chinese, but the most important thing is not just to attract them, but let them find what they need after reaching the country."

Allam says Chinese food has entered the menus of many restaurants and hotels in Egypt. And surprisingly, there are some good Chinese-speaking guides in Egypt that can give tourists a clearer picture of the country.

"Chinese has become part of Egypt's streets, and Chinese courses are now part of six Egyptian universities' curricula."

The volatile situation in the Middle East notwithstanding, tourism in Egypt has witnessed a boom. Last year, Egypt received more than 9 million tourists from across the world, including 52,000 from the Chinese mainland.

"If you go there as a tourist, you want to just relax and enjoy, not to worry about your own safety." And that's what Chinese can do now in Egypt.

The increasing number of tourists flooding into Egypt indicates that the Egyptian tourism industry is sound and Egypt is a safe place to visit, Allam says.

That should be music to the ears of Chinese planning to visit the Land of the Pyramids.

(China Daily July 27, 2007)

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