The three-day state visit of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on India’s resplendent Republic Day as the chief guest speaks volumes about India’s growing interest in the Afro-Arabian nation.
President El-Sisi is the first Egyptian state leader to attend the Republic Day parade of the world’s largest democracy. During his iconic visit from January 24-27 amid the severe economic crisis in Egypt, President El-Sisi attended India’s 74th Republic Day parade as the chief guest on January 26 and held talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Droupadi Murmu, External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar and others political as well as business honchos. The visiting President was accompanied by his ministers of foreign affairs, electricity and renewable energy, planning and economic development, communications and information technology, and some other Egyptian high officials.
India and Egypt are the architects of the Non-Aligned Movement, the alliance for the Non-Alliance. During the cold war, Egypt’s leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru and Yugoslavia’s Josip Tito laid the foundation of the Non-Aligned Movement. But Egypt and India both have evolved from NAM. Instead, the two states are looking for the issue and interest-based partnerships.
The invitation to the Egyptian President as the chief guest on Republic day was significant because of certain factors. At a time India is marching with her big economic and strategic ambition, Egypt is essential for strategic and economic prospects. Plus, Egypt has a prominent place in the Sunni world. Cairo has hardly thrown brickbats at India regarding controversial issues over India-administered Kashmir or the BJP leader’s misleading comment on the prophet. In recent times, Egypt and Indian forces have carried out joint drills. The relationships are going in upward trajectories.
While in India during the Republic day celebration, the Egyptian premier elevated Egypt’s bilateral ties with India to a strategic level. The partnership with the Afro-Arabian nation offers India a significant advantage on the strategic front. Egypt and India collaboratively produced the Helwan 300 fighter jet. Egypt has shown its interest in acquiring plenty of military hardware from India.
If India jointly manufactures defence hardware in the military-run deep state, many commercial opportunities will open up for the vast and emerging Middle East and African market. During the visit, New Delhi and Cairo committed to putting more effort into combating terror-related issues. In a joint address with President El-Sisi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “Misuse of cyberspace to spread extremist ideologies and radicalization is a growing menace. We will extend cooperation against this also.”
Egypt, a historical partner, gained a special place in India’s foreign policy book in the Modi era. Egypt was highly reliant on the food grain supplies from Russia and Ukraine before the war. India banned the export of wheat, but Egypt was an exception, which received about 61,000 tons of wheat. The two states are expected to have more cooperation in the area of food security.
During President El-Sisi’s visit, Egypt and India exchanged MoUs for cyber security, culture, information technology, youth matters and broadcasting. Business was one of the key agendas to discuss during the Egyptian President’s visit. Egypt and India’s bilateral trade was at a record high of US$ 7.26 billion in 2021-22, even after the petrifying pandemic that hammered the global economy and doomed cross-border business. The pair have the plan to cross the $12 billion mark in bilateral trade within five years.
Furthermore, Egypt is expected to allocate a particular land area for Indian industries in the Suez Canal Economic Zone (SCEZ). India’s ReNew Power to Adani Group has shown interest in pumping more money into the crisis-hit market of the “Most Favoured Nation”.
In Egypt, the Army has great power to exercise. The mighty military has fingers in every pie, from infrastructure to fuel stations. This is also to remember Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who served as Mohamed Morsi’s defence minister for a year and led the coup in the country. Under El Sisi’s leadership, Egypt’s foreign debt has tripled.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia have several times supported the nation of 102 million. Egypt is highly prone to economic vulnerabilities. It has suffered many times in the past, but the leadership has learnt very few lessons. Fixing the fast-falling economy would be the most formidable challenge for President El-Sisi. Recently, India came forward to stand by Sri Lanka in her talks with the IMF during her worst economic crisis. Forging ties with India, one of the fastest growing economies, Egypt has more to gain apart a vast market. President El-Sisi’s visit on Republic Day as the chief guest will open up plenty of opportunities for India as well on the strategic front.