Opening of NZ Embassy Cairo - Evening Reception

  • Helen Clark
Prime Minister

Evening reception
to celebrate the opening of the NZ Embassy
Aida Ballroom
Marriott Hotel
Thursday 29 November

Ambassadors and members of the diplomatic corps
Distinguished Egyptian guests
New Zealanders - not least the membership of KICS - Kiwis in Cairo.
Ngati Ranana Cultural Group
Tauranga Intermediate School.

Thank you all for coming to this reception to mark the formal opening of the first New Zealand Embassy in Egypt.

Our reception tonight began with performances by students from Tauranga Intermediate School in New Zealand. They are having the experience of a lifetime visiting Egypt, and my hope is that their time here will stimulate a life long interest in Egypt and its people.

As I have observed on other occasions during this visit, New Zealanders have been formally engaging with Egypt since the First World War. My own great uncle was one who camped here as part of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles en route to Gallipoli.

His voyage from here to Turkey was the last he ever made before being killed in August 1915. My family still has his letters from Egypt.

Then, many more Kiwis came to fight in North Africa in World War Two.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records that some 2,923 New Zealanders are buried or are named on memorials in Egypt. Many more lie in Libya - at Tobruk - and elsewhere in the region. That’s a lot of fathers, brothers and sons and in a few cases young women, who never came home at the end of the war.

Most of our war graves are in larger cemeteries like those of El Alamein; and of Heliopolis here in Cairo. Others are in remote locations seldom visited. I hope that as we lift the profile of Egypt in New Zealand that more people will come to visit these sites, including in places like Tel El Kebir and Halfaya Sollum.

The World Wars impacted terribly on New Zealand as they did on Egypt, but they also provided the next generation of New Zealanders a lively picture of a distant land. Many of my generation grew up with the stories of the Western desert, of Cairo and Helwan, and of course of Maadi.

Maadi was literally a household word in New Zealand in the war years and after. These days it is a leafy suburb of Cairo, but in the 1940s, it was still desert. There a tent city was constructed for tens of thousands of New Zealand soldiers. To this day in New Zealand, the premier rowing trophy is the Maadi Cup – an echo of rowing contests on the Nile.

The post war years saw a continued flow of New Zealand travellers, coming to see the great treasures of Egypt and to visit war graves. We did not have diplomatic relations but that did not prevent pioneer traders in dairy products looking to Egypt and laying the foundation for what today is a large and valuable market for New Zealand.

Diplomatic links were established in 1974, and in 1975 Egypt opened an Embassy in Wellington. In 1977 a useful framework agreement on bilateral trade was signed and ministerial contact was established. But the government of the day did not reciprocate by opening in Cairo and in 1988, the Egyptian Embassy in Wellington was closed.

Since then our perceptions and memories of each other have faded a little, with both countries managing the relationship from other capitals. We have continued to work well together on international issues at the UN, but we have had too little to do with each other bilaterally. Our trade remains narrowly based, and along the way opportunities for better understanding and co-operation will have been missed.

With the opening of our embassy here in Cairo we are seeking to change this. We are here because we recognise and appreciate Egypt’s central and constructive role in the Middle East. By being based here, we are better able to draw on Egyptian perspectives and insights on regional security issues and peace-building. New Zealand shares with Egypt key disarmament goals, including a Middle East free of nuclear weapons. We are part of initiatives like the Alliance of Civilisations at the UN.. Improving interfaith and cross cultural dialogue are important goals for us, and we look forward to contact with Egypt in these areas.

We want to put more effort into developing mutually beneficial trade links and a stronger educational and cultural dialogue. We are looking to create a modern framework for our trade relationship. We look forward to welcoming an Egyptian trade mission in New Zealand next year. We see particular opportunities for co-operation in the food business, educational services, and ICT.

New Zealand today has excellent air links with the Middle East, with more than a thousand airline seats every day coming from Dubai to Auckland. As well, there is the one-stop route from Cairo through Singapore.

Egyptians travelling our way will find a country much changed since your embassy closed in 1988. Since then our economy and society have been transformed.

New Zealand has enjoyed higher economic growth than the European Union and the OECD over the past 8 years. Our tourism industry vies with dairying most years as the top export dollar earner. Our mega-dairy cooperative, Fonterra, is the world’s largest trader of dairy products and along with the meat industry, a huge earner for us. The turnover in the film, television, and related industries rivals that of the forestry sector.

International education services, the technology sectors, niche manufacturing, horticulture and aquaculture, and the marine and wine industries are all important sectors.

On this visit we are projecting New Zealand’s culture and creative people in two ways.

Earlier today, our embassy was opened with traditional Maori protocol, led by kaumatua Derek Llardelli, a celebrated New Zealand artist, and Kuini Moehau Reedy.

Ngati Ranana have come from London to support the occasion, and they will perform for you tonight.

As well, last night I opened a stunning exhibition of photography by John Feeney, a New Zealander who lived in Cairo for forty years. Over those years he built up a remarkable portfolio of photos of Egyptian life in its many aspects – and a selection of that work is on show in the Sony Gallery of the American University of Cairo. We were privileged to have members of John’s family with us in Cairo for the exhibition opening.

Our goal must be to have many more New Zealanders come to experience Cairo as John Feeney did – and to introduce many more Egyptians to New Zealand’s peoples and culture. With strong commitment from both governments, we can build up our economic, cultural, and people to people relationships.

Formal Presentation
I now have a most pleasant duty to perform, in the award of a New Zealand honour to one of New Zealand’s closest friends in Egypt.

Elhamy El Zayat was appointed New Zealand Honorary Consul in 1999 – a task he managed with efficiency and warmth for seven years. He provided consular services to many New Zealand citizens, and effective and dedicated support to many official visitors to Cairo, as well as valuable support in the opening of the New Zealand Embassy here. He continues to provide us with wise counsel. I believe that in opening an embassy in Cairo we are not so much replacing Elhamy, as just providing extra support for him in his work on behalf of New Zealand..

Formal presentation

I have the authority and privilege on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen to hold this ceremony to present the insignia of an Honorary member of The New Zealand Order of Merit to Mr Elhamy El Zeya for services to New Zealand Egypt relations.