The Arab Republic of Egypt is home to the pyramids and many other historic sites. It is focusing efforts on tourism, including the Grand Egyptian Museum that was completed in May. Toshio Motoya spoke with Ayman Aly Kamel, the Egyptian ambassador to Japan, about the current political situation, tourism policy, Egypt’s peace diplomacy in the Middle East, and other topics.
(M) Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today. I also enjoyed having you at my house in March for the Wine Tasting and Discussion About Japan event.
(K) Thank you for inviting me. I had a wonderful time at your home speaking with your very lovely wife, the president of APA Hotel. I think it’s fantastic that you work to improve Japan’s image on the global stage by communicating with ambassadors to Japan from various countries and correcting inaccurate descriptions of history.
(M) Thank you. I interviewed Dr. Walid Mahmoud Abdelnasser, the previous Egyptian ambassador, on Big Talk in June 2009. Afterwards he invited me to Egypt, where I was able to speak with Dr. Zahi Hawass, a renowned archaeologist.
(K) Hawass plans to come to Japan this September.
(M) Really? I would love to meet with him then. Hawass and I share the belief that correct interpretations of history are essential for safeguarding the pride of one’s country. Incorrect history has been taught in Egypt and Japan alike, and we feel that we must personally work to fix this. It was believed that the pyramids were built by slaves, but Hawass’ research has revealed this isn’t true. He discovered that pyramid builders were mummified and carefully buried just like members of the high class. In other words, Hawass theorizes the pyramids were a type of public-works project to provide work and food to people who lost their jobs and farmland due to Nile flooding or other causes. Mistaken history is also taught in Japan, including the Nanjing Massacre and comfort women stories. We must amend this. Considering this, I feel like Japan and Egypt share some common challenges.
(K) Correcting a country’s history is of extreme importance, and is something I am greatly interested in. It seems like you are traveling around the world to fulfill your mission of sharing Japan’s wonderful qualities. The Grand Egyptian Museum was opened in May in Giza, where the three great pyramids are located. I hope you will come to Egypt again to visit this museum.
(M) I would love to! I actually returned from Uzbekistan the day before yesterday. I spoke with the tourism minister, who asked me to take part in an interview on a public television program, where I talked about Uzbekistan’s tourism policy. Uzbekistan has many historic tourist attractions thanks to its location as a stopping point on the Silk Road. The climate is not pleasant for much of the year – the summer is too hot and the winter is too cold. It’s hard to operate tourism infrastructure, such as hotels and restaurants, in places where sightseeing is only seasonal. Because of this poor climate, I said they should hold events to attract many people in the off-seasons, like hot-air balloon events, music festivals, and film festivals. Uzbekistan is a very pro-Japanese country, and Japanese people can travel there without visas. When I was riding the train, I was astounded that a young Uzbek offered his seat to me when he realized I was Japanese. Egypt and Japan are also similar in that they have many historic sightseeing spots.
(K) Yes, Japan and Egypt share many common features, one of which is tourist attractions. I definitely hope you will build an APA Hotel in Egypt for that reason!
(M) I heard the same thing in Uzbekistan (laughs). Our immediate plan is to focus on Japan until the Tokyo Olympics.
(K) I hope you will consider Egypt after that. Millions of tourists come to Egypt each year, which is like a landmark of humankind with one third of the architectural heritage in the world. We have many sightseeing spots and a pleasant climate all year round. Egypt is on the Mediterranean and Red Seas and has beautiful coral reefs, and many people enjoy diving and other marine sports. The government is enacting policies to diversify the tourism market, including enhancing our facilities for international conferences and other events. Egypt welcomes many tourists from Europe, the United States, Australia, and lately China as well. Japanese tourists amounted to 130,000 annually, but this number has rapidly declined in recent years. One of my biggest missions as the ambassador is to revive tourism from Japan to Egypt.
(M) Looking at the world, income levels are rising in countries with large populations, and tourism demand is increasing. There are many countries like this near Japan, including China, and the number of foreign tourists to Japan is soaring. I think this trend will spread across the world and we will enter an age of major global tourism. I suspect people will choose which countries they visit based on the conditions of good public order, cleanliness and no worry of infectious disease, history, and delicious food. An important point will be simplifying the procedures for entering the country, such as not requiring visas. Egypt meets many of these conditions such as its ancient ruins and rich food culture, but Japanese people are likely concerned about safety. Egypt was politically stable until the impacts of the “Arab Spring” that began in Tunisia in 2010 spread to Egypt, resulting in protests and the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. It seems there was political turmoil for some time after that, but my sense is that stability has been restored in Egypt.
(K) I was hoping to talk about that today. As you say, Egypt is stable right now, but in Japan my impression is that the media seems to confuse the public with mistaken reporting on the Middle East and Egypt. Egypt is fairly distant from Syria, Iraq, and Israel, which are making the news for their increasingly tense circumstances. Egypt also has good national security policies. However, the media treats the Middle East like a monolith and makes it seem like conflict is happening throughout the entire region. As you mentioned before, Egypt and Japan share the quality of cherishing their cultures and traditions. We also have similar values. That is one reason why Egyptians are all pro-Japanese. Old Japanese films are popular and are shown frequently. Japanese tourists who come to Egypt are welcomed more warmly than visitors from other countries. I want Japanese people to know this. I had the opportunity to meet with the president of the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) yesterday, and I asked him to report on the Middle East and Egypt in an accurate, balanced way.
(M) The international news published by the Japanese media places disproportionate emphasis on the U.S. and Europe. For instance, terrorism that kills or wounds people in Europe or the U.S. is covered widely, but it hardly mentions similar incidents in the Middle East or Africa. Terrorism causes harm across the world, and impartial reporting is needed.
(K) Exactly. In addition to NHK, I also made the same request to The Asahi Shimbun and The Japan Times newspapers. I want them to correctly express what kind of country Egypt is, so I attend press conferences and other opportunities to speak with members of the media. In any case, I hope they will make efforts to report in a balanced way.
(M) With the widespread use of the Internet, it’s now easier to expose falsehoods told by the media. Fewer people are reading newspapers or watching TV programs, and the mass media’s influence has declined considerably. I think individuals must consider what is really true on their own without depending on the media. For instance, the media extensively covers acts of brutality by Muslims, but historically Christians have been much crueler. The media should impartially convey that these acts are done by an extremist Muslim minority, and people should do their own research with this mindset.
(K) It’s true the media currently depicts Muslims as extremists and nothing else. Extremism is fundamentally unrelated to the teachings of these faiths, including both Islam and Christianity.
(M) Considering this, I think it makes sense for President Donald J. Trump to conclude that the traditional media is “fake news.” He’s thinking solely of winning re-election, and has fulfilled many of the promises he made to hold on to his core supporters such as leaving the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, and moving the embassy to Jerusalem. He has to somehow be victorious in the midterm elections this November if he wants to be re-elected, and the U.S.-North Korea summit is the ace up his sleeve. We don’t know if the summit will take place or not, and I think he might draw this out until October so he can turn these results into an election victory.
(K) I agree.
(M) Trump is doing things like suddenly announcing he won’t meet with Kim Jong Un, and we can’t predict his actions. I suspect Kim Jong Un was also quite flustered by what Trump said. But regarding North Korea, I’d like to point out that only one country has ever given up its nuclear weapons: South Africa, which was in the unique circumstance of abolishing Apartheid. Iraq, Libya, and other countries abandoned their nuclear weapons before they were completed. I think it would be impossible to make North Korea disarm through dialogue. North Korea invited the global media to watch it demolish a nuclear test site on May 24. However, no one brought in dosimeters, and no nuclear specialists were present for the explosion. I think this was a way to conceal their nuclear weapons. And what will happen if North Korea pretends to give up its nuclear weapons while becoming a latent nuclear state like Israel? North Korea will threaten South Korea with these weapons, and South Korea will be integrated into North Korea, creating the nuclear “Federation of Korea.” If that happens, China will probably use this federation to draw Japan into its sphere of influence. Japan needs a North Korea without nuclear weapons to serve as a buffer area against China. I wonder if military actions are necessary to achieve that.
(K) I can’t imagine how much suffering was caused by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Because of this experience, Japan’s desire for denuclearization is of great importance. Just like Japan, Egypt is striving for denuclearization in the Near and Middle East. Only Israel has nuclear weapons in this region, and latent nuclear states of that type are threats to their neighboring countries.
(M) As you say, for nuclear powers, nuclear arms are ultimate defense weapons that provide deterrence against other nuclear states. In contrast, these weapons pose simple threats to nations that have no nuclear arms. Still, North Korea’s nuclear weapons are basically a response to China. North Korea has even declared, “Japan and the U.S. are enemies of 100 years, but China is an enemy of 1,000 years.” I think North Korea’s final goal is to build a friendly relationship with the U.S. and become like Japan. However, I feel denuclearization is an absolute requirement for that to happen. I think the U.S. will have to show its level of commitment by conducting a limited air strike with prior warning to achieve disarmament.
(K) For nuclear disarmament, I agree that sanctions are required in addition to negotiations. However, it is possible that exercising military force will bring about a situation that cannot be controlled.
(M) I always attend a New Year’s party at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas. For the past few years, I’ve shared a table with a former U.S. Air Force general. We’ve talked about various things, and he said the U.S. Armed Forces prepare for all-out war even when carrying out a limited air strike. He said these preparations take five to six months. Our conversation was at the end of last year, so I wonder if the U.S. Armed Forces are fully ready. The U.S. should choose a few hundred nuclear weapon and missile development facilities in North Korea and tell people when the attack will take place so they have time to evacuate. Next, it should use cruise missiles, Tomahawks, and B2 bombers to destroy these facilities. North Korea may feel like its nuclear weapons put it on equal standing with the U.S., but the American military power is tens of thousands of times stronger. The U.S. should execute a limited air strike to display its greater power, destroy the facilities, and make North Korea present information about its hidden nuclear weapons. Japan can only feel peace of mind if this much is accomplished. The U.S. is confident today because of China’s approval. China is carefully adjusting its sense of distance with North Korea while planning to overtake the Korean Peninsula in the future.
(K) If the U.S. did conduct an armed intervention, I am sure Japan would be affected. I think you need to be ready for that. I personally believe the exercise of military force should be avoided for the sake of Japan’s safety.
(M) The first North Korea crisis broke out in the 1990s after North Korea announced it was withdrawing from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). American President Bill Clinton had mostly decided to respond with military force, but the late President Kim Young-sam (former president of South Korea) desperately persuaded him not to because of North Korea’s threat that Seoul would be turned into a “sea of fire.” No attack was launched for this reason. I met with Kim Young-sam several years ago. He said the current circumstances made him regret his past actions, and that the U.S. should have attacked North Korea before it completed its nuclear weapons. If we don’t take this lesson to heart and do something now, North Korea – as a nuclear weapons state – will likely keep menacing Japan for dozens of years. To prepare for this worst-case scenario, Japan must quickly amend its constitution and conclude a nuclear sharing agreement with the U.S. We will also have to abolish the Three Non-Nuclear Principles. We need to be aware that North Korea’s nuclear weapons are not a huge threat to Russia, China, and the U.S. – which are nuclear states – but that they threaten Japan particularly in East Asia. Japan does not have time to be focusing only on the Moritomo Academy and Kakei Educational Institution issue in the National Diet. Today, countries can no longer afford to wage major wars. First, pressure should be placed on North Korea and Kim Jong Un until he realizes that he can maintain his structure and life as long as he gets rid of his nuclear weapons. If necessary, I think the U.S. and North Korea could even conclude a defense treaty. We must do whatever it takes to denuclearize North Korea.
(K) I think your proposal is the best and most realistic method. All citizens and leaders want their counties to experience great economic growth. Upon seeing South Korea’s economic development, North Korea must desire the same thing. I think the most effective way would be to use the economy as a means of pressure.
(M) However, the issue is what China will do. China has continually pressured North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons. Kim Il Sung was about to yield when he was removed by Kim Jong Il, his son, who continued the nuclear program. For this reason, Chinese Chairman of the Central Military Commission Jiang Zemin tried to kill Kim Jong Il in 2004 in a train explosion at Ryongchon Station. If this assassination had succeeded, the People’s Liberation Army stationed at the border between China and North Korea would have probably entered North Korea at once and established a puppet government. China is striving to overtake the U.S. and claim global hegemony by 2049, its 100th anniversary, based on its national strategy called the “Hundred-Year Marathon.” China has already taken control of minority ethnic groups and turned their areas into autonomous regions like Inner Mongolia, Tibet, and East Turkestan. China will desperately want to acquire Japan’s technical power and capital to outstrip the U.S., and I think China would fully leverage North Korea to make Japan into an autonomous region.
(K) This is a fascinating topic, and I’ve learned a lot from your frank opinions. Egypt has asserted for North Korea’s denuclearization from the start, because the same issue is occurring in the Middle East. Egypt’s diplomatic stance is to always pursue peaceful situations through negotiation. This applies to the Israeli-Arab conflicts as well as the denuclearization of Israel and Iran. Instability in the Middle East spreads across the world. Today, Israel’s occupation of Palestine is the only example of military occupation across the world. The injustice of Apartheid in South Africa was resolved thanks to the efforts of the people, but the injustice of Israel and Palestine has yet to be dealt with. Egypt wants to somehow solve this peacefully and bring stability to the Middle East. The world has the potential for peaceful, sustainable development as specified by the United Nations. All religions call for peace, which I think will prove a major strength.
(M) As you say, everyone hopes for peace, but it is not easy to achieve. There are people that wage war as a business, and countries that are reclaiming atolls and building military bases to expand their territory. There are also countries still insisting on the baseless Nanjing Massacre and comfort women stories to harm Japan’s international standing. I want to revive Japan by conveying the truth and firmly refuting this propaganda, which we can refer to as “history warfare.” At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
(K) I am an extremely positive, optimistic person, which is why I believe that technology will grow more advanced and that more opportunities will be available to future generations. Growth in the communications field in particular will closely connect all people. As a diplomat, my job is to communicate with people of other cultures. Young people can use the Internet to enjoy more casual interactions with people of many different nationalities, which I hope will lead to new understanding of each other.
(M) I also hope the world will become more affluent and comfortable. Thank you for joining me today.
(K) Thank you.
Date of dialogue: May 31, 2018
Ayman Aly Kamel
Born in 1965, His Excellency Ambassador Ayman Aly KAMEL worked for almost 32 years as a career diplomat and a public service official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in various Egyptian missions abroad. His previous posts include Consul General of Egypt in Sydney, Australia, Head of the Consular mission in Aqaba and Deputy Ambassador in Amman, Jordan, and political counselor in the Egyptian Embassy in Rome. He holds a Diploma in International Relations from Geneva 1994, as well as several specialized studies certificates in Diplomacy and Negotiations from the United States and Germany. He was nominated Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of The Arab Republic of Egypt to Japan since 2017.