Egyptian Ambassador to the United States Yasser Reda spoke about peace and conflict in the Middle East — including the Israeli conflict with the Palestinians — and mostly evaded any strong statements or criticisms of both his home country and the U.S. at the World Trade Center Baltimore on April 27.
The event was hosted by the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs, which regularly hosts foreign policy experts.
Reda was introduced by BCFA president Frank Burd, who said that Egypt is an important ally in achieving peace in the Middle East.
“We’re interested in the internal affairs of Egypt,” he said. “And we’re very interested in the power Egypt brings to Middle Eastern stability.”
Reda, who spoke a little late due to traffic getting from Washington, D.C., gave a short speech before answering a few questions. In the speech, he characterized Egypt as a country that has come out the other side post-conflict and could lead the way to peace in the region, espeically as an ally of the U.S.
“This partnership is not only critical for both our countries, but for international security and stability,” he said.
He went on to say that the Egypt-U.S. relationship is strong even though it suffered under President Barack Obama. The Donald Trump administration, he said, is a chance to start over, and Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was welcomed warmly by the White House.
Egypt was one of the countries affected by the Arab Spring revolution in 2011-12. Since then, two presidents have been forced out before the current president was elected in 2014. In recent years, the country has been criticized for cracking down on protestors and jailing journalists and aid workers. But Reda was, in a word, diplomatic, and preferred to tout his country’s stability.
“We are an indespensible partner for United States in the region, and we will continue to do everything we can to be a model for the surrounding region,” he said.
Reda also affirmed Egypt’s support for a two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians, saying that whatever the Palestinians agree to, Egypt would back with its own assurances.
“We are committed to solve the problem, and this is the only option,” he said.
In general, Reda said, the Middle East suffers when institutions of nation-states are undermined. This vacuum is then filled by violent extremists. He pointed to the ongoing war in Libya and Syria, saying these counties needed to
revive their institutions, reform them and become inclusive nation-states responsive to their people.
After his speech, Reda answered a few audience questions, though his answers mostly affirmed his previous statements. In answer to a question about the amount of land the Palestinians could expect, Reda said it is not a matter of historic Palestine, but of working together now to find a solution both parties will agree to. Another attendee asked him how Egypt is moving forward despite some division among its people, and Reda refuted that, saying there were no divisions in Egypt and blaming media reports for making it seem more divided than it is.
Overall, attendees were appreciative Reda had come to speak, but also appeared frustrated at his occasional lack of substantive response.
“It was somewhat informative,” said Howard Needle, a member of the BCFA. “He addressed some of the really difficult issues in the region like the two-state solution from the view that it is the only solution, which I happen to agree with.”
For Stephanie Morrison and her friend, who declined to give her name, it was the question-and-answer part that stuck out in part because, as Morrison’s friend put it, he didn’t really answer the questions — particularly ones that referenced difficulties inside Egypt.
“It was interesting overall,” Morrison said, “especially the Q&A because he got put on the spot, and he’s a diplomat.”
The BCFA hosts its next speaker, Johns Hopkins University visiting professor Robert O. Freedman, on May 16 to talk about the U.S.-Russia relationship.