Uzbekistan is the largest country in Central Asia with a great Islamic history. It is the country of Imam Al-Bukhari, Imam Al-Naqshabandi, scientist Al-Khawarizmi, and many others who are loved by Egyptians. From Uzbekistan came Ahmed bin Tulun, the establisher of the Tulunid dynasty. Cairo’s Azbakeya neighbourhood was named after its people.
After leaving communism behind and turning into an independent state, Uzbekistan is now noticing those who share its history and religion, with Egypt being the most prominent country, as the diplomatic relations between them began 25 years ago.
We spoke to the Uzbekistan’s ambassador to Egypt, Oybek Usmanov, about the relations between both countries, their development, their relationship with Al-Azhar, and the cooperation taking place between the two countries in terms of fighting extremism.
Why are the relations between Egypt and Uzbekistan not as deep as the historical bonds they have?
This is about to change. Many do not know that the neighbourhood of Azbakeya is named after the Uzbeks who lived there. They also do not know that Ahmed bin Tulun is the establisher of the Tulunid dynasty.
Now, after the changes that happened in Uzbekistan, we have the common will with Egypt to improve and expand relations between both counties to benefit from the experiences of each other.
When did the plan to improve the relationship start?
Since early 2005, Uzbekistan adopted a new system to develop itself through studying the situation of each country and benefiting from the positive things in it. Egypt had a great impact on the formation of the Uzbek parliament by increasing the percentage of youth and women representation to 25% and 30% respectively. Their presence is a necessity for the state’s structure.
Mass media also has an impact. Egypt is a leader in this field and has great experience that made media have a great impact on the people. We are looking forward to expanding cooperation with Egypt, especially since the current elected president of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, believes that Egypt is the gateway to Africa. Additionally, Uzbekistan holds Egypt in a very special place.
Nearly two months ago, a delegation of Uzbek businesspersons visited Egypt. What was the impact of that visit?
The visit was the first of its kind in five years. The delegation looked into enhancing cooperation opportunities in the field of investment and trade in the e-sector through forging partnerships with Egyptian businesspersons with the aim of joint manufacturing and exportation to the markets of Africa.
The delegation included the largest companies in the field of manufacturing household appliances, cables, electric wires, solar power plants, energy-saving devices, transformers, and high- and medium-voltage power cables. The embassy plans to organise several specialised visits for Uzbek businesspersons in several fields to look into entering into more partnerships over the upcoming period.
How do you see the developments in Egypt?
Uzbekistan was one of the first countries to support Egyptians to have a peaceful life and support the activities launched by the government. We believe that under the leadership of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, Egypt will make many achievements and reforms in the economic and social fields in the future.
What are the objectives of the initiatives that you expanded over the past period?
These initiatives support political dialogue between the American and Uzbek leaders and support cooperation in the fields of trade, investment, agriculture, sciences, technology, tourism, and culture, as well as continue cooperation at all levels and dialogue between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of each country.
How do both countries cooperate in fighting against extremism?
President Al-Sisi and Uzbek President Mirziyoyev always stress the importance of fighting against terrorism, not only with violence but through enlightenment, education, and science. Two new Islamic centres in Uzbekistan were established. They are the International Imam Al-Bukhari Centre for Research in Samarkand and the Centre of Islamic Agriculture in Tashkent. They were established under the sponsorship of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation with the aim of enhancing tolerance, guaranteeing religious freedom, and preserving the rights of believers as well as preventing discrimination against them.
How do you see the future of relations with Egypt?
I believe that the future is bright. Several months ago, we were celebrating 25 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations with Egypt. I am very confident that under the leadership of President Al-Sisi, Egypt will be achieving economic reforms and social development over the next few years. The joint political consultations between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of both countries will work to enhance cooperation between them in all fields.
What is your relationship with Al-Azhar like, especially as the majority of Uzbeks are Muslims?
Uzbeks have great nostalgia for Egypt. A high-level delegation visited Al-Azhar and discussed several cooperation aspects with the secretary general of the Islamic Research Academy, such as utilising the expertise of Al-Azhar to establish a group of scientific centres in our country, whether through benefiting from the curricula of Al-Azhar or its educational methods, as well as generally benefiting from Al-Azhar as an educational system in that regard. This is because Al-Azhar has a special scientific and global position that makes it the most trustworthy moderate institution. This makes many countries resort to it in order to properly educate their people.