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Homepage > The Ministry > Brief History > History of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

History of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs



Egyptian diplomacy dates back to the pharaohs epoch, as the Pharaonic Empire began making contacts with its neighbours at an early stage of ancient Egyptian history, through expeditions and trade missions reported engraved on the walls of temples and tombs since the third dynasty, and through sending envoys bearing gifts to neighboring kingdoms.

The roots of the modern school of Egyptian diplomacy has been deeply rooted since 1258 BC, when the first official written peace treaty in the history of mankind was signed between Ramses II Pharaoh of Egypt and Hattusili III of the Hittites, engraved on a tablet of silver, with a written text in hieroglyphic on Karnak Temple walls in Luxor. Moreover, a replica of the treaty is hanged at the United Nations permanent headquarters, as an evidence of  the deep-rootedness and experience of the Egyptian diplomacy, which continued throughout the ages gaining experience and defending the interests of the nation and citizens abroad at the halls of international organizations and in camera-meetings’ rooms, passing through some of the distinguished issues in the history of Egyptian diplomacy, such as the battle of Taba Arbitration, which succeeded in returning the whole Sinai to Egypt.


Modern History:

Establishing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dates back to the first half of the Nineteenth Century with the beginnings of Mohamed Ali's rule and his attempts to build the modern state by benefiting from Napoleon's Administrative Division which Mohamed Ali adopted as a base for his state. Back then, the Ministry was one of the divans established by Mohamed Ali in order to organize the state's internal and external affairs. It was basically concerned with "trade and commerce" and developed later on to become what we now call "the Ministry of Foreign Trade", which is currently an independent Ministry. At that time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was known as the "Divan of Foreign Affairs" and was concerned with looking into trade and citizen's affairs.

After Mohamed Ali's rule, this same structure continued to function without any tangible modifications and became known as "the foreign divan", one among four fundamental divans of the state. This divan was concerned with abolishing slavery, and following up international treaties. The modifications were related to the European existence in Egypt in the eras of Khedive Said and Khedive Ismail and as a result of the extensive relations with Europe and the privileges that the Europeans enjoyed at that time. The Armenians controlled the foreign divan and occupied all the high level positions in it till the end of the Nineteenth Century.

With the change of rule in Egypt in 1878, the absolute jurisdictions given to rulers were diminished under European pressures and the divans were replaced by portfolios. In this period, the foreign portfolio was headed by many figures, the most prominent of whom was Boutros Ghali Pasha who spent the longest period in office (1894-1910).

With the outbreak of World War l, the end of the Ottoman rule in Egypt, and the declaration of the British Protectorate over Egypt in 1914, the "foreign portfolio" was put to an end since it was a symbol of Egyptian sovereignty. With the reestablishment of the Ministry of Foreign affairs on 15 March 1922, Egyptian diplomacy started to be shaped in its current form. It started sending diplomatic envoys abroad, who, at that time, didn't have any genuine role or significance in the relations between Egypt and the outside world.

Ahmed Heshmat Pasha became the first Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1923. He laid the cornerstone of the organizational structure of the new Ministry and took Al Bustan Palace in Bab El Louk, a palace owned by King Fouad l, to be the first official headquarters to his Ministry. Heshmat pasha divided the Ministry into four main departments, the Minister's divan, the department of political and commercial affairs, the department of consular affairs, and the department of administrative affairs. Also, the first special decree regarding the consular system was issued in 1925, as well as the decree regarding the system of the political positions.

Despite approving the establishment of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the British occupation, at that time, imposed restrictions on the level of the Egyptian diplomatic representation abroad; it was limited to the level of "minister plenipotentiary" or "accredited politician with a minister title", except for the British representative in Cairo who was a " High Commissioner". Also, Egypt was unable to join the League of Nations at the time of the British occupation.

With the signing of the 1936 Treaty, Egypt's diplomatic representation was raised to be at the same level as the diplomatic representation in London. Also, because of this Treaty, Britain recognized Egypt's right to join the League of Nations, a fact that enabled Egyptian diplomacy to have a role in the international arena. The occupation then allowed Egypt to raise its diplomatic representation to the level of "ambassador" which, in turn, enabled Egypt to join the League of Nations, to become the 56th country to join the League. After the Egyptian diplomatic representation was confined to large capitals such as London, Paris, Rome, and Washington, it spread to include many countries all over the world. This period also witnessed the beginnings of the Egyptian consular representation which was more spread out than the diplomatic representation because of the large number of Consuls who already functioned in major cities like London and Liverpool in Britain, Paris, Marseille, and Lyon in France, Berlin and Hamburg in Germany.

The aftermath of World War ll had a great impact on the Egyptian diplomatic performance through the structural changes made by the Egyptian Ministers at that time in order to cope with the profound changes created by the war.

The July 1952 Revolution had a great impact on the radical transformation of the Ministry’s organizational structure. These changes were made to adapt to the extensive changes which had occurred in the international arena. The Revolution had a great effect in laying the foundation of the Egyptian diplomatic practice. Law number 453 was issued on 21 September 1955 to define the Ministry’s role in implementing the Egyptian foreign policy, developing Egypt’s relations with foreign governments and international organizations, and protecting Egyptian interests abroad, as well as issuing diplomatic passports and following up issues related to diplomatic immunities and privileges. The most significant duties assigned to the Ministry included the following:

-Organizing the exchange of consular and diplomatic relations with foreign countries, in addition to the Egyptian participation in international organizations and events.

-Preparing and providing Egyptian missions abroad with diplomatic and consular instructions and guidelines.

-Communicating with different parties to conclude international agreements and treaties, as well as coordinating them and supervising their implementation in cooperation with different ministries and institutions in Egypt.

-Handling communication between the different Egyptian ministries on one side, and foreign authorities, governments, and diplomatic missions on the other side.

-Protecting Egyptian interests abroad and taking the necessary measures to safeguard them within the limits of international law and conventions.

-Collecting information that might influence the policies of foreign countries and providing their respective ministries with all the necessary information, studies, and statistics related to Egypt’s international relations.


History of Modifications in the Work Structure:

In 1979, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs at that time, Dr. Boutros Boutros Ghali, decided to reorganize the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to deal with the new circumstances following the Peace Treaty. In the next year, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kamal Hassan, reorganized the Ministry in order to develop the internal work mechanisms, and he also worked on enhancing the Diplomatic Institute.

When President Hosni Mubarak came to power in 1981, the Ministry witnessed a comprehensive reform process. The law related to the Diplomatic and Consular Corps was modified for the first time in 30 years. Consequently, law No. 45 for year 1982 regarding the Diplomatic and Consular Corps was issued to cope with the new prospects of the Egyptian diplomatic and consular relations, according to the two Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations which Egypt joined in the sixties.

In the beginning of the nineties, a restructuring process for the Egyptian diplomatic practice took place. This process was influenced by the new international climate which had prevailed in the beginning of the nineties after the end of the cold war and the disintegration of USSR which, in turn, necessitated developing the Ministry in order to cope with the new international and regional variables. New factors affecting the international arena included the technological revolution, the information revolution, the evolution of many international blocs, the increase in the role of non-governmental organizations in international relations, in addition to the emergence of economic globalization. This process also aimed at improving the decision-making process in the Egyptian foreign policy and boosting the skills of diplomats in various fields of the diplomatic practice.

The following modifications took place in the work structure of the Ministry as a result of the previously mentioned transformations:

-Establishing and developing departments to address issues of top priority on the international arena. In this regard, separate departments were established to handle various topics such as armament race matters, development, human rights, environment, and the Non-Alignment Movement, in addition to the departments dealing with the UN and its specialized agencies.

-Cooperating with the rest of the state authorities and institutions in a new framework of team work to combine the diplomatic practice with academic knowledge.

-Enhancing the Diplomatic Institute in order to train diplomats for their assignments.

-Stressing the concept of specialization in the Ministry departments which are based on geographic division. Departments have been replaced by sectors headed by Assistant Ministers, each sector includes analogous departments or sub-sectors related to the same geographic location.