Singapore and Egypt have hailed their longstanding friendship and welcomed more opportunities for cooperation as they look to mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations next year.
President Tony Tan Keng Yam, speaking at a state banquet last night for his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is on his first state visit here, highlighted how the two countries' historical fortunes were intertwined through much older maritime links.
The 1869 Suez Canal opening was a boost for Singapore's then developing port and has served as a key waterway for trade and commerce linking Europe and Asia, said Dr Tan.
As the first Arab state to recognise Singapore's independence in 1965, Egypt was among the countries where Singapore's first embassies were set up.
Your country today is an icon in South-east Asia.
MR ABDEL FATTAH AL-SISI, the Egyptian President, congratulating Singapore on its achievements as it celebrates the 50th anniversary of its independence
"This was in large part due to the personal friendship between our founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, and President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who met in Cairo in the early 1960s before Singapore became independent. Given the uncertainty surrounding our future as a new nation at the time, we remain grateful to Egypt for its early support," Dr Tan said.
People-to-people ties have since grown steadily with thousands of Singaporeans having studied at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the foremost centre of Islamic learning in the world. Dr Tan noted that there are almost 300 Singaporeans studying in Egypt at any given time. Many of them go on to become religious teachers and distinguished community leaders.
Dr Tan said Singapore looks forward to enhancing cooperation with Egypt in new fields, including education, water management and port development.
In his speech, Mr Sisi congratulated Singapore on its achievements as it celebrates the 50th anniversary of its independence. Singapore, he said, is proof to all developing countries that their dreams of a better life are not impossible.
"Your country today is an icon in South-east Asia," Mr Sisi said, adding that his country looks forward to strengthening ties and benefiting from Singapore's experiences in areas such as trade, vocational training and port development.
On Sunday, Mr Sisi witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Suez Canal Authority and Hyflux to build an integrated water and power project in Egypt that comprises one desalination plant and one power plant.
Yesterday, Mr Sisi was given an official welcome at the Istana, where he met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong after calling on Dr Tan.
Mr Lee welcomed Mr Sisi's call for a firm stance against religious extremism, and said both countries should work together to counter this challenge by exchanging experiences in promoting inter-faith dialogue and religious harmony, and enhancing information sharing.
Mr Sisi had a roundtable lunch with Singapore business leaders, where he highlighted business opportunities in Egypt. He also visited the Botanic Gardens, where an orchid, Dendrobium Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, was named after him.
He leaves today for China and Indonesia, the last two legs of his three-nation Asian tour.