India and Egypt – Finding Strategic Convergence
Amb Anil Trigunayat, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

As the global churn is yet to spring some sense of stability New Delhi has been in an overdrive to identify and nurture key partnerships across geographies since its strategic autonomy and consistent principled policies in international discourse have provided it with a strategic niche to enhance the outreach in a constructive manner. Egypt the most populous country in North Africa and India the most populous country in the world enjoy a civilizational connect of several millennia. They have been on the forefront of fight against colonialism within the ambit of non-alignment and beyond with the Nehru-Nasser vision. Although Sadat and Mubarak era were somewhat tepid, both sides have cooperated in the international fora and regard the multilateralism and sustenance of reformed multilateral institutions like UN, WTO and WHO as a precondition to their continued relevance. Both also are hoping to be on the horseshoe table of the UNSC whenever that happens. Even a short lived Morsi wanted to enrich bilateral ties with India while also wanting to join the BRICS in 2013. Besides at Samarkand last year Egypt signed a MoU to become the dialogue partner at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). It is natural that New Delhi and Cairo find convergences to catapult the relationship to a much higher orbit as the two sides continue to celebrate 75 years of establishment of diplomatic relations.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited Cairo in August 2015 within three months President Sisi visited for the 3rd India -Africa Forum Summit ( October 2015) and yet another bilateral visit of President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi to India( September 2016) -twice within a span of one year. The Joint statement issued identified three pillars of cooperation including political security, economic engagement and scientific collaboration apart from P2P ties. The same feat is going to be repeated this year as well.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has invited President Sisi, who completes his 10 years reign after the Arab Spring, as the Chief Guest on the Republic day (January 24-26), which is a distinct honour reserved for special friends. As India entered its Amrit Kaal and is chairing the G20, PM Modi has also extended invitation to two friends from West Asia, President Sisi of Egypt and President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan of UAE. Another important strategic partner from the region is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia already a G20 member under whose presidency in 2019 India extended tremendous assistance. UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are close and have brotherly ties among themselves. Besides, since Climate Change is a major global challenge there too the salience of Egypt being the host of last COP 27 and UAE the next COP 28 host acquires greater and rational significance where India will play a lead role as the voice of the Global South. On climate change New Delhi fully supported Cairo at COP 27 on the ‘Loss & damage’ funds outcome and is keenly interested in collaborating for the Saudi led Middle East Green Initiative.

In recent years the bilateral relationship has moved to a much higher orbit. Trade and investment have grown significantly despite certain procedural constraints. The target is to take the bilateral trade from current $ 7 bn to $12 bn by 2027. The Suez Canal, which is extremely important for India’s trade and transit and for which India stood with Egypt in 1956, has begun to attract more Indian companies in its special economic zone enterprise. While some 50 Indian companies have already invested in excess of $ 3bn in Egypt in diverse areas also using it as a hub for North Africa and other markets in the Afro-Arab region, in recent times several new enterprises in the area of Green Hydrogen with billions of dollars investment have established their presence in Egyptian Suez canal Economic Zone including Renew Power ($8 billion), ACME ($6 billion) and OCIOR Energy (formerly Azure Power – $4 billion).

Although the Egyptian economy has been badly hit and it had to resort to help from the Saudis and the Emiratis and even the Qatar is after the blockade as well as several tranches of IMF assistance, the country has emerged as a major player in the Mediterranean, Red Sea and the Horn of Africa even as it has had problems with Ethiopia over the Nile water sharing over the Renaissance dam. With a long standing Peace Treaty, it has good relations with Israel and also trying to create a collaborative matrix with Iraq and Jordan in the Levant as it does not support alienation of Syria in the Arab world. It has significant influence in Libya. Even with Turkey despite contestations in North Africa especially Libya being on opposing sides and in the Eastern Mediterranean the relations with Turkey have eased consequent to President Erdogan’s tweaking his approach with regard to the Muslim Brotherhood and Political Islam.

Given all these developments scope for strategic partnership and convergences with India has assumed a greater significance. Ipso facto several of these factors in the Middle East region are of direct consequence for India’s maritime, energy and economic interests where the two will find more ways to cooperate for a mutually advantageous partnership. In addition, Egypt is known for its famous Islamic thoughts and leaders at Al Azhar and elsewhere and could play a constructive role in de-radicalization efforts as terrorism and extremism are major issues confronting both the countries.

Defence and security cooperation has acquired a new salience. The Joint defence committee has met several times since 2006. Only last year the Indian Defence Minister and Foreign Minister visited Cairo. Egypt has shown interest in buying Indian defence equipment including LCA Tejas, Aakash missiles and Indian radars. There is also potential for cooperation is Soviet/Russian origin equipment and spare parts. Bilateral exercises in naval, air and among Special Forces as well as defence exchanges will be carried out more frequently. Already, preceding the visit of President Sisi, bilateral exercises are going on and a 120 member contingent will participate at the Republic Day parade. Likewise the two countries have been collaborating in the space for peaceful uses with ISRO and NARSS spearheading it. Maritime geography and connectivity have a logic of security and stability “The Indian Ocean, the Suez Canal and the Red Sea is one continuum flows from one into the other and both of them depend on each other for their security” rightly stated by the Egyptian Ambassador in Delhi.

During the visit, several agreements and MoUs are likely to be signed in critical areas including cyber security and ICT and perhaps a Delhi Declaration will take the relationship to a new strategic partnership level. As the global churn settles down New Delhi and Cairo are likely to find more strategic convergences and cooperative domains to jointly address the emerging challenges and weaponization of fuel, financial instruments, food and fertilizer to serve their vital interests. As the MEA Press Release rightly reiterated, the forthcoming visit of President Sisi is expected to further strengthen and deepen the time-tested partnership between India and Egypt. Amen!

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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