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.​​​​

To Be Mentioned​:

The historical facts indicates that since the very thinking about establishing what later became the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as early as June 1819, Muhammad Ali gave his directives to "Khawaja Baghos Bek Yousofian to take the post of translator" as a multilingual speaker, who could speak Turkish, Armenian, Greek, Italian and French in order to contact various foreign communities in Egypt and deal with the “outer seas” (as the international community was called at the time), and throughout the era until the work at the Ministry was resumed After 15th March 1922, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs occupied a special status in the Egyptian government, and remained the most important symbol of national sovereignty and independence. This fact had led to the British decision to abolish the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after announcing the British protectorate over Egypt on 19th December 1914 as a manifestation of dependency on Britain. For the first time, the second Cabinet of Hussein Roushdi was formed without the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the British government enforced that the British High Commissioner becomes the Minister of Foreign Affairs similar to what happened in Tunisia and Morocco.

With the end of the First World War in November 1918 and the outbreak of the 1919 revolution, the issue of re-establishing of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry was raised, as one of the most important aspects of restoring national independence. Talks on re-inaugurating the EgyptianMinistry of Foreign Affairs lasted for three years. The matter was raised on three stages: First, when the British Milner Commission indicated in its report on the meetings of the Egyptian delegation headed by Saad Zaghloul and the Commission on June and August 1920 that: "We realizedthat all Egyptians, and the Sultan and his ministers in general, were eager to represent their country politically abroad however different their views on other issues are, and they were all reluctant that we had abolished the portofolio of the foreign ministry when we declared the British Protectorate and handed over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the British High Commissioner”. The British High Commissioner had alreadymonitored, in a confidential report in December 1918, the increasing aspirations of the Egyptian officials to "replace Turkey as the first Islamiccountry". Notwithstanding, this first attempt to re-establish the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not take effect as British protectoratecontinued over Egypt, and the persistence of Britain to keep the management of all external relations in its hands.

The Second phase came Following the British declaration on 26th February 1921 that "the protectorate is an unsatisfactory relationship" between both countries. Though, even in this declaration the resumption of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was not obtained, for fear that Egypt would have the freedom to communicate with countries competing Great Britain, and concerns that Egypt should attempt to assume its status as a major regional power, the matter which could harm British interests.

Britain insisted not to include the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the formation of Adli Yakan Pasha’s Cabinet, in response to Egypt’s request, in the pretence that "accepting to appoint a Minister for Foreign Affairs for Egypt contradicts the foundations laid by the British Foreign Office for the negotiations". Even when the British Foreign Office agreed on the idea, it restricted this approval with many preconditions, including the approval of Great Britain on all political agreements, which resulted in Egypt’s rejection to the British proposals and postponing the return of the Ministry of Fore​ign Affairs.

The third phase of attempts came with the resignation of Adli Yakan Pasha’s Cabinet on December 8, 1921. Negotiations to form a new government by Abdel Khalek Tharwat Pasha began, and he insisted in the preamble to his political platform of forming the government that “the British government states frankly and explicitly that it abolishes the protectorate and recognizes the independence of Egypt first of all", anddirectly following this preamble, the condition "to restore the Foreign Ministry and foreign representation of ambassadors and consuls."

Britain eventually settled to contain Egypt’s openness on the world from outside Egypt instead of restricting the reopening of the Ministry of Foreign internally. This was reflected in the circular sent by the British Government to all its representatives abroad on March 15, 1922 in what Allenby, the British High Commissioner, called "the British Monroe principle" for the British ambassadors to inform the governments to which they are accredited, which included the following:

  1. The Egyptian government will have the freedom to re-establish the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a prelude to the diplomatic and consular representation of Egypt abroad.
  2. Great Britain will not extend its protectorate in the future to Egyptian nationals in foreign countries, except to the extent the Egyptian government demands and until Egypt establishes its diplomatic representation in those countries.
  3. Ending the British protectorate over Egypt will not affect or change the prevailing status of countries represented in Egypt.
  4. The prosperity and integrity of Egypt are essential to the security of the British Empire, and therefore Britain will always keep these special relations since it is for the ultimate British interest. The British recognition of Egypt's independence and sovereignty has outlined this position.
  5. Based on this principle, any attempt from those countries to interfere in the affairs of Egypt will be considered a hostile act. Moreover, any aggression on the Egyptian territories will be punishable by every possible means.

Representatives of foreign countries in Egypt were informed on March 15, 1922 that "the Egyptian government has become free now to re-establish its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and therefore it could establish diplomatic and consular representation abroad". A circular note was issued on March 16, 1922 directed to representatives of foreign countries in Egypt concerning the appointment of Abdel Khalek Tharwat Pasha as Minister of Foreign Affairs and that any contacts regarding Foreign policy in the future should be directly through him.

The first headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after its re-establishment was “Al Bustan” Palace in Bab El Louk district in central Cairo. Abdel Khalek Tharwat Pasha carried on his post as foreign minister with a small group of diplomats, running the work of the ministry for two years with the same administrative system applicable before 1914, until the first decree to organize the Ministry’s departments into 7 departments was issued on 4th August 1923. This was followed by a new regulation on 29 November 1925 to determine the functions of each department and define their filed of competence. Other Decisions and laws then followed, organizing, managing and controlling work in the diplomatic and consular corps, and updated to accommodate with the contemporary developments and increasing demands of the diplomatic and consular work.

In a quick glance of the development of the representation level of foreign missions to the Arab Republic of Egypt, and representation of Egypt abroad, we can notice that the beginning was before 1914, where diplomatic representation was limited to the level of Deputy or Consul General. After the 1922 declaration and until 1936 the level of foreign missions representation in Cairo was restricted to the rank of Minister Plenipotentiary, with Britain against any attempts to raise the level of representation to “Ambassador”. This situation did not change except after reaching the treaty of friendship and alliance between Egypt and Great Britain on 26th of August 1936, which stipulated in its Article II that "henceforth, accredited Ambassadors should represent His Majesty the King of Great Britain in the court of His Majesty the King of Egypt and represent His Majesty the king of Egypt in the court of St James with the applicable methods.”

As for the development in the scale of diplomatic representation, representatives of seventeen countries were in Cairo after the Declaration of Independence in Egypt on February 28, 1922 who were Deputies and Consuls General. This number increased to 26 countries from 1922 untilEgypt joined the League of Nations. Then embassies, consulates and offices of regional and international organizations continued to open in Egypt, reaching 240 diplomatic missions today in Cairo, which has become one of the largest centers for receiving diplomatic representation in the world.

As for Egypt’s diplomatic representation abroad, the first steps of Egyptian diplomatic and consular corps abroad began with only four missions until the formation of the necessary calibers of heads of missions and diplomatic and administrative staff. The first royal decree was issued on 24 September 1923 to appoint Extraordinary Delegates and Ministers Plenipotentiaries: Abdul Aziz Ezzat Pasha in London, Mahmoud Fakhri Pasha in Paris, Ahmed Zewaror Pasha in Rome, and the Saif Allah Yousri Pasha in Washington.

With the expansion of Egyptian relations with the world and its growing sophistication, the number of Egyptian representations abroad increased reaching in 1936 about 57 Representations (varying between 23 commissions or embassies, ​​ twelve Consulate General, and twenty-one consulates and one mission). These embassies increased with the strengthening Egyptian Foreign relations, the amplifying Egyptian interests abroad and the increasing numbers of Egyptian expatriates across the globe to reach about 162 embassies, consulates, office of interests and representation offices abroad. The total number of diplomats in Egypt’s missions abroad and the Foreign Ministry headquarters in Cairo is 980 diplomats from all ranks of diplomatic and consular corps, who are internationally recognized for their high and significant skills that befits Egypt’s school of diplomacy, who are appointed in the ministry and dispatched abroad after two stages written and oral tests. They are assisted by financial and administrative highly efficient staff, bringing the total number of employees at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from different categories (diplomatic, administrative and technical cadres) in and outside Egypt to about five thousand person.