British Ambassador’s Health Check
UK ambassador John Casson - Photo from the UK official website

By British Ambassadot to Egypt John Casson

People often think an Ambassador has to be a good talker.   But the biggest mistake a diplomat can make is to sit inside Embassy walls and the ministry office, just talking.  That makes us irrelevant to the changes and challenges in a fast-moving, vital place like Egypt and its region.

We need three other things.

First, Ambassadors today need to be not just talking, but listening.  We need to understand Egypt. That means going to where Egyptians are, from Alexandria to As-Saeed, from Ministries to factories, farms and Facebook. And it means seeing Egypt through the eyes of Egyptians, young and old, from all social classes.

Second, Ambassadors today need to be not just talking, but doing.  Our countries stand or fall together.  People in Britain are directly affected by what happens to people in Egypt – if Egypt succeeds we succeed.  We should not leave Egypt to face its challenges alone, but take tangible steps to partner with Egyptians who are building a more stable, more prosperous and more democratic country.

Third, Ambassadors need to be not just talking, but accountable and open to questioning. That’s the way my Embassy will keep improving to make our impact as positive as possible for Egyptians and British people alike.

So this month, I invite you to help me do an Embassy health check.  As we start enter the month of Ramadan, a year since I arrived to work on my Arabic in Alexandria, I want your input to assess the top 10 ways that Britain and the British Embassy are supporting Egypt with actions, not just words.

  1. Defeating terrorist violence. UK-Egyptian partnership is stronger every month – through equipment supplies, joint training on aviation security and countering IEDs, joint membership of the coalition against ISIL and cooperation to take the fight to the ISIL terrorists in Libya.
  2. Number 1 for investment and jobs. Britain brings half of all foreign investment to Egypt, $24.1bn in the last 5 years.  We brought our largest trade mission here for fifteen years in January.  The British company WPP is organising the Suez Cana opening in August. And new companies are arriving all the time – not least great British retail brands like Debenhams, Topshop, Hamleys opening in Egypt in recent months.
  3. Leading the world to supply Egypt’s energy.  At Sharm el-Sheikh in March, BP signed the biggest investment deal in Egypt’s history, worth $12bn, to develop the West Nile Delta project to increase Egypt’s gas production by 25% by 2020.
  4. Projects to change lives on the ground.  Britain has spent $50m to support new political and economic opportunities since 2011.  In Qena in March, I saw how this money is creating new jobs for people who had none. Last week I launched our “Nomou” programme, with Shell Foundation, to help small and medium enterprises grow and create new jobs.
  5. Protecting rights and empowering women.  We continue to support democracy and human rights in Egypt.  In 2015, we launched the “My Right” project to help women and girls overcome violence, in collaboration between Britain and the Ministry of Justice. This will help support centres in family courts across Egypt explain to women their legal rights, provide psychological and social support, and help them take control of their lives.
  6. Scholarships. In 2015, we have increased the number of scholarships for Egyptians to study in Britain from 30 to 180, including 80 Chevening scholarships for Masters’ study, and 64 PhDs in science under our $30m Newton-Mosharafa initiative with the Egyptian Government.
  7. English lessons and professional qualifications.  The British Council gave 85,000 Egyptians classes and skills to help them get the jobs they want, supported Egyptians sitting 200,000 exam papers, and worked with the Egyptian government to support educational reform.
  8. Tourists.  British visitors love Egypt and have kept coming throughout the last four years, supporting tens of thousands of jobs.  Almost 1m British tourists came to Egypt in 2014 and 2015 is on track to be better still.
  9. Visas.  In 2014, we issued 36,000 Egyptians with visas, at a success rate over 82%, in an average time of just eight working days (nearly twice as fast as our official target).  We continue to work to make sure the service is as good as possible.
  10. Engaging with Egyptians.  This year we opened our Embassy activities to ordinary Egyptians, with well over 100,000 users now in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And this two-way engagement is vital if we are to be not just talking but listening to Egyptians and building partnerships with them to make a tangible difference for the sake of Egypt.

These are the things that have kept me and the British Embassy busy in this past year.  I am proud of my fantastic British and Egyptian staff. And I am proud of our achievements to support a more successful Egypt.

But I am ambitious to achieve much more in the year ahead.  That’s why I welcome your reactions to me on Facebook (UKinEgypt) or Twitter (@FCOJohnCasson).  What do you like about our performance?  How can we improve? I await my health check from the people who know Egypt best – Egyptians themselves.

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