By Maydaa Abo Nadr
Following President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s visit to Hungary in June, Daily News Egypt spoke to Hungarian Ambassador to Egypt, Peter Kveck.
As one of the first countries to invite Al-Sisi for an official visit following his election, Kveck expressed Hungary’s readiness to expand economic and tourism relations and cultural exchange between the two countries.
He further spoke of the necessity of deepening bilateral ties, and stated that Egypt is on the right track towards democracy.
Tell us more about President Al-Sisi’s last visit to Hungary and its outcomes.
Hungary was among the first European countries to invite Al-Sisi, which we did right after he won the elections last year. Our Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, invited him, and he came to Hungary accompanied by a delegation of ministers and businessmen. During the visit, Al-Sisi exchanged views about bilateral relations between both countries and signed agreements. The most important one was about railways; as Hungarian railways are very famous in Egypt. It is our intention to bring them back to Egyptian stations very soon, to have the famous Magri (Hungarian) Trains in the country again.
Regarding the new government, what are your views on the current human rights situation in Egypt?
From our side, as PM Vicktor Orbán said, Hungary is not going to lecture anybody, because each and every country has its own traditions. What has been considered a successful model in Europe and Hungary does not have to be successful in Egypt or other countries. Every country should be free to choose its own way of development whether in terms of economic, social or human rights development, etc.
Do you think Egypt is moving towards democracy?
I think Egypt is absolutely on the right track for democracy. I was happy to see the Egyptian government declaring its roadmap last year. Major steps of this roadmap were implemented, which means a new constitution was adopted by referendum. There is an elected president who is hugely supported by the people and very soon there will be an elected parliament.
Are there major differences between the current government and the previous one in terms of the Hungarian-Egyptian relations?
Hungary has always respected the choice of the Egyptian people and we are very happy to see that the country is doing much better. The national unity is evident, as well as the strong support to the president. What Egypt needs is a strong government to make firm decisions in order to recover the economy, stabilise the security situation, and fight terrorism.
How do Hungarian citizens view Egypt’s current situation?
Hungarians consider Egypt an ally and they have a very positive image about it. For Hungarians, Egypt is an ancient civilization with a great history and respectful traditions, since the era of the Pharaohs until modern times. About 50,000 to 60,000 Hungarian tourists visit Egypt yearly. Mainly, the Red Sea resorts are their destination.
How do you think we can raise the number of Hungarian tourists coming to Egypt?
Unfortunately, Hungarians do not know much about the different Egyptian cities yet. For that reason I am always asking the Minister of Tourism to raise Hungarians’ awareness about the touristic beauty of Egypt, through organising tourism presentations and proactive marketing campaigns in Hungary. Through this, we can very easily raise the number of Hungarian tourists visiting Egypt to 100,000 tourists a year, and even more.
Hungarian-Egyptian relations are significant, compared to Egypt’s relations with other Eastern European countries. What are your views in this regard?
Our relations date back to the 1920s. Hungary established diplomatic relations with Egypt in 1928. It was the first ever Arab country with whom we established relations. Eleven years later, in 1939, Cairo was the first Arab city where we opened an embassy. So our relations witnessed a glorious past, as they will witness a glorious future.
Tell us about the first direct flight between Budapest and Hurghada.
Five or six weeks ago, WizzAir initiated its first direct flight from Budapest to Hurghada. This flight is regular, once a week, and we are hoping to increase it to two or three flights weekly. Increasing this flight’s frequency will depend on the Hungarian market as well as the neighbouring countries, as we hope to bring passengers on board from Austria and Slovakia as well. I would also like to see flights from Budapest to Sharm El-Sheikh very soon.
Hungarians prefer coastal tourism more than cultural one in Egypt. Is this true?
They prefer the Red Sea, mainly Hurghada, so it is more coastal tourism than cultural. This is why I would like Hungarians to be given more information about the other touristic attractions of Egypt, as they should know that Egypt is much more than Hurghada.
According to an article on Daily News Hungary, the large-scale exhibition of Egypt’s Pharaohs, held in Szeged’s Ferenc Mora Museum in southern Hungary, attracted approximately 114,000 visitors. Did this exhibition succeed in raising Hungarians’ awareness about Egypt?
It was a very good initiative, but I would like to see a real touristic road show, to bring Egyptian tour operators, media figures and well-known persons to Hungary and present Egypt as a whole to the Hungarian public; not only the culture but Egypt as a whole picture. About a month ago, formerminister of antiquities Zahi Hawass visited Hungary and gave a lecture in one of our best universities. The event was broadcasted on TV and it was perfect advertising for Egypt as a whole. As Hawass is a well-known figure whom everybody knows, this event served to draw Hungarians’ attention to Egypt.
By drawing the Hungarians’ attention to Egypt, will this expand to neighbouring countries, such as Slovakia and Austria?
Of course. These countries have similar cultures. The region of Central and Eastern Europe still has to discover Egypt.
How can Egypt improve its image to attract tourists, especially after the attempt of bombing the Karnak Temple?
Since the 25 January Revolution, Luxor was a safe destination for tourists. But due to the negative media coverage surrounding the country, tourists were avoiding heading to Luxor in the past few years as well. Egypt should be more active in international advertising. The key is to improve the image of the country abroad. You have the ideal conditions for a thriving tourism sector, in terms of service, monuments, environment and weather.
In terms of economic relations, tell us about Hungary’s participation in the Economic Summit.
There were several Hungarian companies in the field of renewable and solar energy who were very satisfied and impressed. And it was a new start for them here in Egypt and its market. Also, investors in the medical field and in the tourism sector participated.
Were any memoranda of understanding (MoUs) signed?
I do not want to see papers, I want to see actions. I do not care about signed MoUs, I care about growing figures.
What is your opinion regarding the New Suez Canal and the new Egyptian capital? Are there any intentions from Hungarian companies to invest?
They are fantastic and impressive ideas. I am sure that there are many Hungarian companies that are willing to invest in these projects. Our companies are good, not only in construction, but also in renewable energies water sanitation, waste water management and everything needed for modern cities or for the New Suez Canal. These are long-term projects for the coming years, so we will see more and more Hungarian companies engaging with the Egyptian market.
After speaking about tourism and economy, can you tell us more about the bilateral relations from a cultural aspect?
Egyptian-Hungarian cultural relations are extremely strong and longstanding. In the 1970s and 1980s, we had the total of 600 Egyptians who received PhDs and higher scientific degrees from Hungary. We are proud of this, but that generation is close to retirement or already retired. So we started scholarship programmes to bring the new Egyptian generations awareness about Hungary, in order to develop cooperation between both countries.
I can see that Hungary is trying, through the Balassi Cultural Institute, to spread its language. Many Egyptians are studying Hungarian. Do you think we need to spread the Hungarian language in Egypt to develop relations?
Our institute is offering language courses. I think we should not expect from all foreigners to learn our language to get familiar with our culture, because language is not the only condition to do so. For example, to enjoy music, dance or ballet, you do not need to know the language. Moreover, a lot of Hungarian cultural products are available with English subtitles in our institute, such as movies. On the other hand, people who want to learn our language are more than welcome.
What about the masters and PhD scholarships to Hungary that were discussed during Al-Sisi’s visit?
Recently, an agreement, which offers 100 scholarships for three consecutive years, a total of 300 scholarships, to Egyptian students, was signed. Egyptian railway engineers should be trained in Hungary for the Hungarian railways planned to be brought back to Egyptian stations. Water and agricultural engineers, among others, who graduate from Hungarian universities, would be familiar with our culture and market, a fact that would further develop our relations. Hungarian universities in the field of medical science had a very good reputation in Egypt, which is one of the reasons I would like to revive this reputation by seeing Egyptian doctors trained in Hungary.