SPEECH BY PRESIDENT TONY TAN KENG YAM AT THE STATE BANQUET HOSTED IN HONOUR OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE ARAB REPUBLIC OF EGYPT HE ABDEL FATTAH AL SISI ON 31 AUGUST 2015
Your Excellency Abdel Fattah Al Sisi
President of the Arab Republic of Egypt
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am delighted to welcome Your Excellency and your distinguished delegation to Singapore.
Singapore and Egypt enjoy a longstanding friendship. Your Excellency’s visit, the first State Visit to Singapore by an Egyptian President, comes at an important time. Just as Singapore is celebrating its Golden Jubilee this year, Egypt and Singapore will celebrate our own Golden Jubilee next year to commemorate 50 years of diplomatic relations between our two countries.
Your Excellency’s visit to Singapore takes place on the heels of the inauguration of the new expanded Suez Canal. Although diplomatic relations were only established in 1966, our historical fortunes were intertwined through much older maritime links. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 provided a welcome boost for Singapore’s then developing port. Singapore’s total trade volume doubled from $39 million in 1869 to $71 million in 1870. Since then, the Suez Canal has been a key waterway for trade and commerce linking Europe and Asia. It is remarkable that the recent expansion of the Canal was completed within just one year instead of the estimated three, with the strong support of the Egyptian people. This is testament to Your Excellency’s vision and determination to accelerate Egypt’s pace of economic development. I am certain that the new and improved Suez Canal, Egypt’s “gift to the world”, will provide a further boost to global maritime trade. Singapore extends our heartiest congratulations to Your Excellency and the Egyptian people on this great achievement.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Egypt was one of the first countries to recognise Singapore’s independence. In fact, Egypt was the first Arab country to do so. This was in large part due to the personal friendship between our founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew and President Gamal Abdel Nasser who met in Cairo in the early 1960s before Singapore became independent. Given the uncertainty surrounding our future as a new nation at the time, we remain grateful to Egypt for its early support. Egypt was also instrumental in helping Singapore secure membership to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Since then, our two countries have continued to work together in the international fora, including at the NAM and United Nations, on issues of mutual interest. In 1979, when there was a move to suspend Egypt from NAM as a result of the Egypt-Israeli peace agreement, Singapore stood with Egypt. Now, in 2015, we are pleased to offer our unconditional support for Egypt’s bid for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Beyond our Government-to-Government ties, people-to-people ties are also strong. Thousands of Singaporeans have studied in Egypt over the years. There are almost 300 Singaporean students studying in Egypt at any given time. Most of them pursue religious studies at the prestigious Al Azhar University, the foremost centre of Islamic learning in the world. Like many of their seniors, they will become future asatizahs (or religious teachers) and distinguished leaders in the Singapore Muslim community. Our former Mufti, Shaikh Syed Isa Bin Mohamed Semait, now a member of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights, and our current Mufti, Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram, who are both present here tonight, are proud Al-Azhar alumni.
Singapore is a young country compared to Egypt, which has a civilisation with a history of 6,000 years. Nevertheless, as a multicultural society, Singapore shares a similar characteristic with Egypt, which has been a meeting point for many peoples and creeds throughout history. In this regard, we support Your Excellency’s call earlier this year for a “religious revolution” against extremism. Our countries share a common interest in confronting religious extremism and terrorism in all its forms, and ensuring that different faiths co-exist peacefully. Singapore and Egypt can continue to learn from each other in this area.
Ladies and Gentlemen
As a longstanding friend of Egypt, Singapore stands ready to share our developmental experience in areas which may be relevant to Egypt. We welcome more Egyptian officials to participate in the Singapore Cooperation Programme in areas such as public administration, economic development, environmental management and urban development. We also look forward to enhancing cooperation between our two countries, especially in new fields including education, water management and port development.
Your State Visit is a celebration of the warm friendship between Singapore and Egypt over the past five decades. I am confident that our bilateral relations will continue to flourish in the years to come. Let me conclude by conveying my best wishes:
- For the peace and prosperity of the Arab Republic of Egypt;
- For the good health and success of Your Excellency President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi; and
- For the enduring friendship and goodwill between our countries and our peoples.
Thank you very much.