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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 113

Historical Relationship with Egypt

By T.K.Premadasa

Year 2007 marks the historical milestone on relationship between Sri Lanka and Egypt as both countries celebrate their 50th Anniversary of diplomatic relationship this year.

The historical relationship between Sri Lanka and Egypt has strengthened mainly due to the trade links between the two countries. The traders from the Arab world visited Sri Lanka quite often with various exotic items of manufacture in exchange of indigenous items of Sri Lankan products to start with.

In view of the available resources, the first Egyptian who wrote on Sri Lanka was Ptolemy the Greek astronomer and geographer lived in Egypt in the second century A.D. He was the recognized designer of the world map with prominence to Sri Lanka. Mr G.C.Mendis, in his book titled “Early History of Ceylon” published in 1932 has stated that Ptolemy calls Sri Lanka as Salice. According to Ptolemy the products of Sri Lanka at the time were rice, ginger, barley, sapphire, silver and elephant tusks.

It is a clear fact that King Buwanekabahu I of Sri Lanka (1273-1284) had direct trade links with Egypt closely connected to the Egyptian Sultan. Mr G.C.Mendis in his book “Early History of Ceylon” published in 1932 states that King Buwanekabahu I, signed a trade agreement with the Sultan of Egypt in 1283 for Sri Lankan products such as cinnamon, precious stones and elephant tusks for profitable gains. King’s delegation traveled by sea to the Head of Persian Gulf and then by land to Cairo through Baghdad and Syrian deserts. The book titled “Ceylon History” published by the Ministry of Education for G.C.E.(A/L) students indicates that the King Buwanekabahu I, has sent a list of the available products to be exported to the Sultan of Egypt .

The robust goodwill between the two countries was further strengthened centuries ago when Ahmed Orabi Pasha in exile lived in Sri Lanka during the 19th century. A great freedom fighter exiled from Egypt arrived in Sri Lanka on January 10, 1883 with his retinue for whom sanctuary was granted for residence in Sri Lanka.

The book titled “The Egyptian Exile in Ceylon-Sri Lanka” (1883- 1901) authored by Mr. Arthur C. Dep, a former Deputy Inspector-General of Police, covers the entire story of the Egyptian freedom fighter. Also “A History of Ceylon Police Volume II “ authored by Mr. Arthur Dep indicates that special attention and treatment were extended to Orabi Pasha and his followers during their stay in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka reminisces the memoirs of historical value of the close and consolidated relations existed between Egypt and Sri Lanka by the Ahmed Orabi Center in Zagazig in Egypt and in Kandy.

This relationship was further strengthened with the new government elected in Sri Lanka in 1956.

The new government came into power in 1956, introduced a new foreign policy of non-alignment making significant changes in the political, economic and social field in Sri Lanka. Accordingly, the new government in its inaugural policy speech declared that she would adopt a non-aligned foreign policy moving towards opening diplomatic relations with all the nations.

Over the Suez Canal crisis in 1956, the then Prime Minister of Sri Lanka late S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike magnanimously defended the sovereign interests of Egypt in Sri Lanka Parliament, at the United Nations General Assembly and many other international forums. President of Egypt, the late Abdul Gamel Naser owing a debt of gratitude to Sri Lanka, established diplomatic relations between the two countries as an initiative step on concurrence with Sri Lanka Government in Colombo and Cairo in 1957, subsequently upgraded to ambassadorial status in 1963. Diplomatic relationship between the two countries has enormously strengthened in development of trade as well as politically and culturally during the last five decades.

Abiding by the non-aligned foreign policy Egypt and Sri Lanka prospered perpetually with mutual understanding between the two countries while contributing their share for global peace as long time members of the United Nations. Egypt and Sri Lanka as founder members of the non-aligned movement have played a pivotal role in engineering non-aligned foreign policy from its inception.

The cordiality between the two countries enhanced rapidly since the inception of diplomatic relations in very many areas. Leaders from both countries visited from time to time having friendly dialogue with each other. As a result of dialogue the cultural sector was considered priority of importance and a cultural agreement was entered into in 1991.

Sri Lanka – Egypt Trade Relationship emerged into reality in 1954 with a Partite Trade Agreement between Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) Egypt and Japan the first of its kind in the world. By this Barter Agreement, Egypt buys our tea at an agreed price and exports cotton to its value to Japan for her textile industry. In return Sri Lanka imports machinery and other products from Japan.

Sri Lanka- Egypt trade had been transacted in free convertible currencies up to 1954. From 1954 to 1977, a ‘Barter System’ of trade was conducted through a Trade and Payment Account. In 1977, a new Bilateral Trade Agreement was signed. Under this agreement, hard currencies were used as the medium of settlement of trade balances. With a view to further strengthening bilateral relations, Sri Lanka and Egypt later signed a Trade and Economic Co-operation Agreement in 1987. This Agreement paved the way for setting up of a Joint Committee to address broader and specific trade issues. In 1990, the First Session of the Joint Committee was held in Sri Lanka. Subsequently, both governments agreed to upgrade the Joint Committee to a Joint Commission to be co-chaired by Trade Ministers of both countries.

The First and Second Sessions of the new Joint Commission on Trade and Economic Co-operation were held in Cairo in 1996 and in November 2002 respectively at ministerial level. The objective of the joint commission was to expand relations on trade and economic development between Sri Lanka and Egypt. Both countries were able to exchange information on trade and also organize trade missions etc. This commission also builds a forum for discussions on cultural exchange and attraction of tourism. The significant achievement of the Joint Commission is the proposed Free Trade Agreement between the two countries.

An Agreement for the avoidance of double taxation has been entered into between the two countries on 17.06.2000. This has been ratified by the parliament of Sri Lanka in 2001 and is awaiting the finalization of the legal procedures from the Government of Egypt for the enactment of the conditions of the Agreement.

On October 19, 2005 Sri Lanka and Egypt signed an Air Services Agreement. It is the initial step to pave the way for direct air services between the two countries. The direct air link will enhance the flow of tourists to both Egypt and Sri Lanka, two of the most popular holiday resorts in the world. Sri Lanka, embraced with an abundance of fascinating attraction of climatic landscape and affluent with a rich cultural heritage, has for many centuries captured the tourists around the globe.

Exchange of trade between Sri Lanka and Egypt has been cordial since 1950s and has developed a strong relationship. The trade balance during the last 50 years has elevated to a high standard and the trade transactions between the two countries have been mostly favorable to Sri Lanka.

Historic relationships between Sri Lanka and Egypt have been highly impressive in political, economical and cultural field et al. The goodwill maintained by this long standing linkage will be further emboldened in fostering a lasting bondage.

- Asian Tribune -

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