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PM Modi And Egypt's President Sisi All Set To Revive Traditional Ties In A Changing World

Egypt is a significant Arab power and straddles both North Africa and West Asia—areas of  great interest to New Delhi in pushing its strategic and economic interests. Egypt could act as a gateway to  Africa for Indian goods.  

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi (Left) and PM Narendra Modi
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Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi will be the  guest of honour at India’s landmark 74th Republic Day. The visit is expected to rekindle ties that were in the doldrums during former president Hosni Mubarak’s long term in power from 1981 to 2011.

 And yet, relations began on a high note soon after independence with Jawaharlal Nehru and Abdul Gamal Nasser leading the Non-aligned Movement. But in the subsequent decades with both India and Egypt busy with their own problems and  with NAM losing much of its earlier relevance, ties had remained in the margins, though routine visits continued. Now as India sees itself as a rising power with ambitions of playing a more significant role in the world, the Modi government hopes to build on and re-energise India’s former excellent relations with Cairo.

Egypt is a significant Arab power and straddles both North Africa and West Asia—areas of  great interest to New Delhi in pushing its strategic and economic interests. Egypt could act as a gateway to  Africa for Indian goods.  

With the changing international situation, India’s growing strategic interest in the Gulf region, where Egypt had always been a player, the latest India-Israel-US-UAE (12U2) grouping, could evolve further to include several other countries, including Egypt. The dire economic situation brought on by both the pandemic and the Ukraine war led to a desire to explore the modern dynamic of the relationship. Egypt has excellent bilateral ties with all members of the 12U2, and the Egyptian military had since Anwar Sadat’s days been close to Washington.

India’s outreach to Egypt is part of its broader efforts  to get a firm foothold in West Asia, where Cairo is seen as a moderating influence. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s wooing of the Gulf countries had helped to break the previous pro-Pakistan tilt of several of these Islamic countries. Earlier Pakistan could always flag Kashmir as a rallying cry in the region, but today leading Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar do not instinctively veer towards Pakistan. The 2019 removal of Kashmir’s special status, did not result in public statements against India, despite an all-out effort by Pakistan to get the Islamic world to speak out in one voice.

India appreciates that the Egyptian establishment much like the Gulf kingdoms crackdown on Islamic extremist groups. Like the US and its European allies, India too is comfortable with the Sisi regime.

Dictator at Home

Yet, the large majority of people in Egypt see Sisi as a ruthless dictator, who since the 2013 army coup has filled the country’s jails with over 60,000 political prisoners. Most are supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. The only time the Muslim Brotherhood held office was after the Arab Spring of 2011 led to the resignation of strongman Hosni Mubarak. In the elections that followed Mohammed Morsi came to power. But he could not complete his term. But as President, Morsi visited India in 2013 and was eager to push for all comprehensive bilateral relations with New Delhi. Unfortunately, he was removed from power a few months later by army chief Sisi. Morsi was imprisoned and died in 2019.   

The world has turned the page on Morsi and is happy to deal with President Sisi. He arrived in New Delhi on Tuesday on a three day state visit. His talks with Prime Minister Modi is scheduled for Wednesday. After the talks a clutch of agreements are expected to be signed. Foreign minister Subramanyam Jaishankar will call on President Sisi. He leaves New Delhi on Friday. While in the capital the President will also meet Indian business leaders.

 India’s defence cooperation with Egypt is  being revitalized. During defence minister Rajnath Singh’s visit to Cairo last September the two countries signed a MoU for enhanced defence cooperation, that included more frequent joint exercises and exchange of personnel for training.

India was hoping to sell its Teja’s Light Combat Aircraft to the Egyptian air force and promised to set up joint production in that country and full technology transfer. However, according to latest reports, the deal has fallen through, with Egypt opting for the South Korean plane instead.

Joint exercises between the two forces are however on. Between June and July last year, India sent three Su-30MKI aircraft, two C-17 planes, and some 60 personnel to take part in a Tactical Leadership program conducted by the Egyptian air force, some Cairo west airbase.

Special forces of the Indian and Egyptian armies are exercising together at Jaisalmer in Rajasthan since the 14 of this month. It is a two-week exercise that will focus on sharing professional skills and warfare in desert terrain. As a sign of growing military cooperation, a military contingent from Egypt will also be part of the Republic Day parade.

The disruption in  the wheat market following the Russia-Ukraine war led to shortages last year. Egypt had turned to India for wheat that the government supplies at subsidized cost to more than 70 million of its over 103 million population. But India abruptly stopped wheat exports to help stabilize prices at home. However, it made an exception for Egypt and allowed a consignment of 61,000 tones to go be delivered. The gesture was appreciated by the government in Cairo.

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