Britain's Prince Charles and Camilla travel to Egypt on second leg of Middle East tour

Prince of Wales takes climate mission to Cairo ahead of Cop27 summit in Sharm El Sheikh next year

Britain's Prince Charles and his wife Camilla touched down in Egypt on Thursday, meeting President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and Egyptian first lady Entissar Amer and visiting historic sites in Cairo.

The royal couple received a formal welcome at the presidential palace at the start of their first visit to Egypt in 15 years.

At their meeting, the prince and Mr El Sisi discussed efforts to counter terrorism and extremism as well as co-operation between the two countries in areas such as health and higher education, according to a statement issued by the president's office.

After a separate meeting with Camilla, Egypt’s first lady wrote on her Facebook page that the two discussed the Egyptian government’s efforts to empower women.

Several markets in the Egyptian capital were closed for security reasons as the British royals visited Al Azhar Mosque, with television footage showing the prince meeting Sheikh Ahmed Al Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, and other officials.

Social media buzzed with a positive reaction to Camilla, who wore the hijab. Egyptian Twitter and Facebook users praised the Duchess of Cornwall for showing respect for the country's culture.

Prince Charles’s meeting with the Grand Imam of Al Azhar was seen as particularly important given their shared interest in interfaith dialogue.

The Prince of Wales helped start a British academic scholarship program which allows Al Azhar scholars to pursue degrees in Islamic studies at British universities before returning to Al Azhar to work as faculty members. Launched in 2015, the program aims to promote mutual understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Sheikh El Tayeb has forged close relations with the Vatican and has also met the Archbishop of Canterbury, the most senior figure in the Anglican Church.

The Al Azhar mosque in Cairo's old quarter was built more than a 1,000 years ago and has become one of the foremost seats of Sunni Islamic learning.

The old quarter is also home to the Khan El Khalili bazaar, with sites dating back to the Mameluke and Ottoman eras, and the city's historic gold market and tea houses.

While Prince Charles met Sheikh El Tayeb, the Duchess of Cornwall attended a sebou — a traditional celebration usually held on the seventh day after a child's birth that dates back to Pharaonic times.

The duchess, who hopes to use the visit to the Middle East to draw attention to women's rights issues, could be seen in videos posted on social media attending a gathering of local women at a house near Al Azhar.

South-west of Cairo, tourists and onlookers at the Giza plateau waited for the royals to arrive amid high security.

“We were asked on Wednesday night to clear out of the Giza complex and instructed to take our camels and horses out of the area,” said one tourism worker at the pyramid complex.

He told The National that tourists would be allowed to stay in the complex during the prince's visit to keep the area busy and highlight the recovery of the country's tourism sector.

The heir to the British throne arrived as the sun began to set, with a convoy of vehicles snaking through lines of journalists and security personnel to reach the Giza Pyramids.

After touring the capital, the royal couple were scheduled to make the two-hour journey to Alexandria, which is at the frontline of climate change.

Following Cop26 climate summit that wound up in the Scottish city of Glasgow this month, Egypt is to host the next round of the UN climate summit at its Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh next year.

Prince Charles is the most senior royal who travels overseas, representing his mother Queen Elizabeth II, who stopped overseas tours a few years ago because of her age.

The prince also represented the royal family at the climate summit, at which British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned in a speech that Alexandria was among the world cities at risk of being lost “beneath the waves” because of climate change.

When his Middle East tour was announced, the Prince of Wales' deputy private secretary said that global warming would figure prominently.

“In this decisive decade for climate action, the next 12 months is therefore expected to see a significant co-operation between the UK and Egypt,” said Chris Fitzgerald.

“Indeed, both visits will have a major focus on addressing the climate crisis,” he said.

The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall arrived from Jordan, where they met environmental activists, fellow royals and visited the city of Gadara — a major Roman settlement in the Middle East — as well as the site on the Jordan River where Jesus is believed to have been baptised.

Prince Charles's visit to Egypt and Jordan went ahead despite concerns over the queen's health. But he said in Jordan that his mother was “all right”.

“Once you get to 95, it’s not quite as easy as it used to be. It’s bad enough at 73,” he quipped, in comments to Britain's Sky News in Gadara.

Updated: November 18th 2021, 4:23 PM