After a three-and-a-half-year stint in Mexico, Egyptian Ambassador Yasser Mohamed Ahmed Shaban and his wife Aya Idmail will be returning back to Cairo at the end of next month.
Shaban, who arrived here in September 2013 and presented diplomatic credentials to President Enrique Peña Nieto in November of that same year, has seen a lot of changes and political and economic ups and downs back home during his time in Mexico.
Among them was the transition from a second revolution to overthrow the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi after he misused his positions to oppress minorities and women, among others, into a new democracy with the leader of that very insurgency, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, officially being elected president in June 2014.
While here, Shaban also witnessed from abroad the terrible tragedy of a commercial Russian airplane being brought down by a terrorist bomb in Egyptian airspace after leaving Sharm el Sheikh in October 2015, and countless other vicious terror assaults against his country that not only wreaked horror among his people but seriously contracted the tourism industry that is so vital to Egypt’s economy.
And I would be amiss if I did not mention that ghastly incidence of eight Mexican tourists being accidently killed by Egyptian security forces in September 2015, which became a diplomatic hot potato for both Cairo and Mexico City.
But throughout all these difficulties, Shaban persevered and, despite a series of political reshuffling and economic setbacks back home, always focused on ways to bolster bilateral relations and increase two-way cooperation.
In his time here, the ambassador increased cultural exchange through numerous exhibits, conferences and gastronomic and touristic expos.
More importantly, he increased mutual political understanding and promoted binational trade and investment projects through opening the door to new and previously unexplored sectors of commercial exchange, including a budding export program of Mexican halal beef to Cairo.
During his national day reception last week — which also served as an unofficial farewell for him and his family — Shaban noted that in the last three years, two-way trade doubled from $65 million in 2013 to more than $130 million in 2016.
During that same period, the accumulated capital of joint-venture investment projects soared from $700 million to more than $1.2 billion, with nearly $1 billion in Mexican investments in Egypt and $250 million in Egyptian investments here.
Shaban has also helped to increase bilateral cooperation in the areas of academic exchange and military exchange, and has helped to lay the framework for a series of binational accords and memorandums of understanding.
Never one to stay home and wait for opportunities to fall in his lap, Shaban has been a hands-on ambassador, visiting no less than 22 Mexican states and 50 Mexicans cities, always with an eye for ways to boost two-way cooperation.
And, more than anything else, Shaban and his family have forged deep personal ties and friendships with practically everyone they came across in Mexico, from government officials and media representatives to people on the street and in all walks of life.
Diplomacy has often been defined as the art of engaging with counterparts on the basis of equal footing and mutual respect, even in the most trying circumstances, to address shared concerns and achieve common objectives.
By that definition, Yasser Shaban is a true diplomat, and his presence in Mexico will be sorely missed.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at email@example.com.