Remarks at the U.S.-Egypt Strategic Dialogue
Secretary of State
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you, Sameh. Good morning, everybody. I can say for myself I am really delighted to be back here in Cairo, and very happy to be here with Ambassador Steve Beecroft, who is doing a great job here, and with a strong delegation from the United States to pick up where we left off. And we are happy to be re-engaging and in this dialogue. I want to thank you, Sameh, I want to thank President al-Sisi for bringing our two delegations together today. I think what you have just articulated about the importance of Egypt and the importance of the relationship can’t be understated.
Egypt has long played a pivotal role in the region and in world affairs, and we have great confidence, I assure you, that that’s part of the foundation on which we will build the future. We have confidence in Egypt, and it’s important to be beginning to rebuild elements of our relationship based on this Strategic Dialogue.
As a Senator and as Secretary of State I’ve been to Cairo many times in many different circumstances, but my message has always been the same: The American people are committed to the security and to the economic well-being of the Egyptian people, guided by the vibrancy of your own civil society, your politics, your free and fair democratic process.
The agenda for our delegations today is very broad. It ought to be, it includes the threat posed by Daeesh, which is serious. Just two days ago, General Allen met in Canada with 22 nations. We continue to be deeply focused on Daeesh, and we believe we’re making progress. In the last few days – and this is something I know you will want to talk about -- Turkey has come to the table. I know there are always concerns about what that means, but I can assure you the activities are clear and delineated, and we can discuss that in the course of the morning. It is vital for us to focus on the question of all violent extremist groups, because it goes to the very question of the civility of the Middle East.
In the process also we must discuss the reinvigorating of the Egyptian economy. Ambassador Thorne is here, we’ve been – I have been personally engaged in that from the very beginning, when Senator McCain and I came here together with a group of businessmen in an effort to try to attract capital and re-energize things. It didn’t work out, because the politics were still in turmoil. But now we hope is a more propitious moment for us to be able to take advantage of those opportunities. We want to focus today on the support and the aspirations that the citizens of your country all share for a prosperous nation, and a nation which they all can participate and feel confident about the future.
And we all know that in fighting extremism Egypt has already paid a high price. My government strongly condemns the murder of Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat and the repeated terrorist attacks in the Sinai. We understand and share your concern regarding the instability along the border of Libya. And we appreciate your support for the global anti-Daeesh coalition, including your continued cooperation expediting military overflights and access to the Suez Canal. And while I mention the Suez Canal, let me take this opportunity today to congratulate you on the celebration in a few days, on the 6th, of the accomplishment of a remarkable technological feat, which will have a profound positive impact on global commerce and trade, and will be a very – I think very much a signature moment and accomplishment for Egypt, itself.
It is because of our commitment to Egypt’s security and our common fight against violent extremism and terrorists that over the last year alone – and I have a long list here, which I will share with the Foreign Minister of additional items that we are proposing for security and economic assistance to Egypt. But that is the reason that we have, over the last year, provided F-16s, Apache helicopters, Fast Missile Craft, armored vehicles, and other weapons systems. We will continue to provide robust training to the Egyptian military, as the military seeks it and desires it, in an effort to build capacity, and also to meet the highest expectations of your military for its professionalism. And today we will offer new suggestions about how to expand our cooperation in countering terrorism and enhancing border security.
Now, we all know that defeating terrorism requires a long-term strategy. Border security and law enforcement actions are a significant part of the equation, but the even the larger imperative is to persuade and prevent young people from turning to terror in the first place. Otherwise, no matter how many terrorists we bring to justice, those groups will replenish their ranks and we will not be safer. We will be involved in a round robin, circular, repetitive process.
This means that our comprehensive strategy has to earn the support of religious authorities, educators, and citizens who discredit hateful doctrines and who are ready and willing to build stronger and more resilient communities. The success will depend on building trust between the authorities and the public, and enabling those who are critical of official policies to find a means of voicing their dissent peacefully, through participation in a political process. The more united and proud of their institutions the citizens of a country are, the more effective those institutions will be in resisting and fighting back against the agents of terror. This is, we have found inevitably through history, the imperative nexus between human rights and security. And this, too, will be a major focus of our discussions today.
But I want to emphasize that the strategic relationship between our countries is centered around opportunities, not threats. The fact is that the stronger and the more prosperous Egypt is, the better able it will be to counter the dangers posed by extremism.
On the economic front we welcome the steps that President al-Sisi has taken to restore investor confidence, to stabilize finances, and to improve the environment for doing business. We do believe there is more that can be done, and we don’t offer that as a criticism. We offer that as a observation of how we could help. Our economy is today doing better than it’s been doing in years. Our unemployment is less than five percent. Our stock market is stronger than it’s been, ever. And we have a new round of energy, of creativity, of entrepreneurial activity. We really want to share that. We really want to help your economy to be able to grab onto that.
There is no reason in the world the economy of Egypt, which was racing ahead at seven percent the day that the events of the transition in Tahrir Square took place couldn’t come back quickly seven percent. And we want to help you, not just to seven, but to meet double digits of growth, which we are convinced are waiting for Egypt with the right economic choices. President al-Sisi has launched a serious effort to phase out costly energy subsidies. He is promoting tax reform and a new investment law that hopes to cut red tape for company registration and project licensing. We very much support that, and we look forward to working with him on its implementation. But we all know from experience reform anywhere is always a very difficult undertaking. To sustain it requires courage and political will. None of us are blind to the hurdles, but we also – everybody at this table understands there really is a path forward. And it’s a pretty clear path.
To that end, we believe five steps are critical. First, the United States wants to work with you to better attract capital. Last year, American companies invested more than $2 billion in Egypt, which represents about one fifth of all the foreign direct investment in the country. Our firms are actually poised to do even more. And that’s why we’re striving to ensure a level playing field by providing technical help to the Egyptian Competition Authority. And it’s why we will renew our bilateral talks under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement later this month. And we have a good, solid economic team here with Ambassador Thorne, Ambassador Rivkin, and Scott Nathan, others. So we look forward to having a serious conversation and building on it.
Second, we are joining with you to strengthen intellectual property safeguards. Better protection of trademarks and patents encourages innovation, investment, and job creation in Egypt. It encourages it anywhere. People want to know that the results of their innovation and their investment are protected. And so it’s important to do that. It also shields the public from threats to safety and health that come from counterfeit goods that don’t rise to the same standards.
Third, our governments are collaborating to empower entrepreneurs, to support small and medium-sized businesses, enterprises, to create jobs. We hope to expand the amount of products manufactured in the Qualifying Industrial Zones, which last year supported more than $800 million in Egyptian exports to America and supported the creation of some 300,000 jobs. We also need to strive to remove the barriers from starting and operating a business -- and that includes making it easier to turn an idea into products and services that, in turn, will transform the Egyptian economy. The rapid implementation of the new investment law can actually make the greatest single difference in all of this effort. One stop shop that really works will be one of the single most investment mechanisms for attracting capital and energizing the Egyptian economy.
Fourth, we want to work with you as you develop and implement a comprehensive energy strategy. President al-Sisi and Egypt deserve a lot of credit for the successful management of your energy challenge this past – this summer. And I know last year, when I talked to President al-Sisi, one of the main objectives was to prevent the energy blackouts, and be able to provide something directly to people. I am very pleased that General Electric stepped up, promised to help develop quickly some deployment generators, and helped to do this, and I think it has made a difference. And it’s been very important to be able to turn around this immediate success into a long-term, reliable energy supply for the Egyptian people.
And finally, last thing, let me just reiterate the United States and Egypt are both at our best when we are working to improve institutions of governance, to support political reform, because good governance is the single most important platform for any country’s success in the 21st century. It’s more vital than oil or precious minerals or a deep water port. And, believe me, we are confronting our own challenges in the United States. We are not suggesting we have all the answers. But we are engaged in a pretty open process of working at our own process to develop ongoing reform.
Egypt has a very long, very proud history of independence and leadership. Egypt has really always been the hub of the Arab world and of this region. And we have no doubt that, with the right economic choices and the right choices about governance, Egypt is going to continue to play this vital role. That’s why the United States is so deeply committed to this relationship. We are confident that Egypt has really good reason to ensure that the fundamental rights of its citizens are protected, that vital principles such as due process and freedom of press and association are cherished, and that women are empowered, and that every Egyptian has the right to participate peacefully within a truly democratic political process. No great country – and Egypt is without question a great country – should settle for any less.
So, in closing, Sameh, let me just say that we have a good opportunity this morning in this dialogue to thresh out some of these things. I really want to thank you again for hosting this dialogue. And my apologies that it had to be moved, inevitably, but I’m confident we can get on a schedule that keeps us, in an ongoing way, engaged in this dialogue. Our delegations, I know, are very eager to get started. And I am really confident that today is going to be a very constructive, very productive session. It’s going to help us build this relationship well into the future.
The friendship between our countries is not based on some kind of perfect agreement. It’s based on intense awareness of our shared interests in areas such as regional stability and counterterrorism. And, as is usually the case when representatives of the United States and Egypt get together, we always have a lot to talk about. So I am very pleased to return the floor to you, Sameh, and I look forward to a very productive session today. Thank you.