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Republic Day: Who Is Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, India's Republic Day Chief Guest?

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi's participation in Indian Republic Day celebrations as Chief Guest represents the Indian push to closer ties with Egypt and a greater role in West Asia and Africa.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Egypt's President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, India's Republic Day Chief
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Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi arrived in India on Tuesday. He is the Chief Guest at the Republic Day celebrations on Thursday. 

India celebrates Republic Day on 26 January to mark the day the Constitution of India came into being. This is the 74th Republic Day. 

Each Republic Day, the Union government organises a military parade on Rajpath in Delhi and hosts a foreign dignitary as the Chief Guest, which often reflects the government's foreign policy priorities. 

Egypt is emerging as a key Indian partner in West Asia, an area where Prime Minister Narendra Modi has devoted great time and energy as Prime Minister. Egypt is also seen as a bridge between West Asia and Africa. 

Here we profile Egyptian President Sisi and explain the Modi government's push to India-Egypt relations and the focus on West Asia.

Who Is Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, how he seized power?

Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi became the President of Egypt on June 8, 2014. He is a career military officer. 

Sisi has been the de facto ruler of Egypt since July 2013 when the then-President Mohammed Morsi was removed and Adly Mansour was made Interim President. Though Mansour was the titular ruler, Sisi was the real string-puller. 

"On July 3 [in 2015], the military deposed him [Morsi] and put him under arrest. A figurehead president, Adly Mansour, was installed, but it was clear that Sisi, who retained the title of defense minister, wielded power," notes The Britannica Encyclopaedia

Sisi's rise is rooted in the Tahrir Square protests that forced longtime Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak's ouster in 2011. Mubarak was replaced by Morsi and Sisi became a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). He was the director of military intelligence at the time.

The SCAF was a body of top military officers that took control of Egypt two days after Mubarak was ousted.

The think tank Washington Institute notes, "On February 13, 2011, two days after Mubarak's fall, the SCAF issued its first constitutional declaration and officially assumed control of the state for six months. It also disbanded the 1971 constitution, called for constitutional amendments, a referendum, and elections, and announced the formation of a constitutional amendment committee. 

"After a mid-March referendum on proposed amendments passed overwhelmingly, the council released a constitutional declaration that codified its legislative and executive powers and established a legal basis for its enhanced political role."

In August 2012, Morsi promoted Sisi as the Defence Minister and Commander-in-Chief of Egypt's military.

In June 2013, protests were held against Morsi and Sisi gave an ultimatum on July 1, 2013 that if Morsi could not resolve the situation in 48 hours, the military would intervene. Morsi failed to resolve the situation and was overthrown.

"Morsi offered some negotiations but refused to step down or agree to early elections, so on July 3 the military deposed him and put him under arrest. A figurehead president, Adly Mansour, was installed, but it was clear that Sisi, who retained the title of defense minister, wielded power," notes Britannica.

In March 2014, Sisi announced his candidature in the upcoming presidential elections. He comfortably defeated his opponent Hamdeen Sabahi. Sisi won reelection in 2018 by securing around 97 per cent of popular vote. 

Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi's presidential tenure

Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has governed as a strongman and has clamped down hard on Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group also designated as a terrorist organisation. 

"The Brotherhood was formed in Egypt in 1928, four years after the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate.* Since then, the Brotherhood has advocated for the re-establishment of a caliphate, a state ruled by sharia (Islamic law)...Its members carried out numerous bombing operations and assassinations, including the 1948 murder of then-Prime Minister of Egypt Mahmoud El Nokrashy Pasha, who had recently banned the Brotherhood," notes the think tank Counter Extremism Project (CEP) about Muslim Brotherhood.

The CEP adds that the Muslim Brotherhood also inspired terrorist group Al Qaeda and Palestinian terrorist group Hamas is also its offshoot.

Sisi also saw the return of political stability in Egypt and an economic revival which further made him popular.

The Britannica noted, "Egypt’s return to stability under Sisi allowed him to keep his approval rating aloft throughout his first term. Infrastructure projects, investment in Egypt’s economy, and financial reform provided optimism for economic recovery, though improvements in living standards remained slow moving. Among his biggest projects were an expansion of the Suez Canal and the construction of a new administrative capital east of Cairo.

"During Sisi’s second term, infrastructure projects were ornamented with cultural marvels. In 2019 he inaugurated the largest cathedral in the Middle East and the largest mosque in Egypt in the new administrative capital. Not far from a new international airport in Giza, the Grand Egyptian Museum was built and was set to replace the overcrowded Egyptian Museum in Cairo as the country’s main destination for ancient Egyptian artifacts. In 2021 pharaonic mummies were transferred to the new museum in a spectacular parade." 

However, Sisi's tenure is also marked by authoritarian governance, notes Outlook's Seema Guha.

Guha notes, "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."

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The push to India-Egypt relations, focus on West Asia

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has paid a special focus on West Asia and has invested time and energy in cultivating relationship with countries and leaders in the region. Egypt is seen as a bridge between West Asia and Africa and also a gateway to Africa.

There is also an increased India-Egypt security cooperation and Modi government has also put efforts in selling military hardware to Egypt.

India and Egypt have had historic relations. Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Egyptian leader Abdul Gamal Nasser were the founders of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) but the relations lost warmth over the years as NAM lost shine. 

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Outlook's Guha notes, "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."

But now India is looking to revive the relationship with West Asia in the focus.

Guha notes, "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...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."

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This is visible in Indian actions. When India imposed an export ban on wheat last year amid international wheat shortage, New Delhi made an exception to Egypt and supplied wheat to the country. This was appreciated by the Egyptian government. 

The West Asia has been a focal point for the Modi government. Modi has cultivated personal rapport with leaders in the region was also awarded the King Abdulaziz Sash, the UAE's highest honour, in 2019. 

Guha notes, "The two foremost Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have excellent ties with India.

"While the religion card is played by various countries when it suits their interests, other important considerations are now factored in. India’s growing economy is one. The other is the time and energy that Modi has devoted to building ties with the region, having visited most of the GCC countries more than once and building a personal rapport with the rulers."

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