El-Sisi's India visit: How dual identity of Egypt as an Afro-Arab nation suits New Delhi's geostrategic interest
This visit gives impetus to India-Egypt ties where the latter’s dual identity as an Afro-Arab nation could be leveraged by New Delhi towards further expanding and deepening engagement with Cairo in the months and years to come
India has a long standing tradition of inviting a guest nation during its republic day celebrations. This year, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi is invited as chief guest for the 2023 republic day parade. His visit also commemorates the 75 years of diplomatic relations between New Delhi and Cairo.
India and Egypt are two of the oldest civilizations that had trade links for centuries. Both countries had a shared struggle against British occupation, and post-independence the involvement of their leaders, President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru being at the forefront of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
Of late, the ties have rekindled with increase in trade and investment between the two. For Egypt, economic interests may be an important cornerstone for its burgeoning relations with India. It seeks greater investment from Indian companies, trade, tourism and cooperation in the fields of cyber security and information technology.
Egypt is also the leading investment destination for Indian companies and is among the most important trading partners of India in Africa. The bilateral trade between India and Egypt reached $7.26 billion in the financial year 2021-22, registering a 75 per cent increase as compared to the last Financial Year. Both sides want to increase bilateral trade to $12 billion in the next five years. Currently over 50 Indian companies have invested in Egypt across sectors like chemicals, energy, textile, retail, agri-business and Information Technology (IT). This has led to $3.15 billion combined investment and offered approximately 35,000 jobs to Egyptians.
Need to be cautious
The relations, although flourishing, must reflect on the fact that President El-Sisi is considered as an authoritarian ruler with scant regard for democratic process. He was involved in a military coup in July 2013 against the democratically elected government of then President Mohammed Morsi.
The opposition in Egypt has weakened under his regime and he is often questioned for his human rights record. What if the discontent in Egypt rises again as it did during the Arab spring, known as the ‘Egyptian Revolution of 2011’ leading to ouster of the then President Hosni Mubarak who ruled Egypt with an iron fist for almost 30 years? India, therefore, needs to be cautious as to what extent they should forge relations with an authoritarian leader.
From the India perspective, it should focus more on the strategic relations with Egypt owing to its geostrategic location as it lies at the cusp of the Mediterranean, Europe, Africa, and West Asia. Egypt controls the Suez Canal – one of the most critical shipping routes to global trade and thereby pivotal for connecting India’s trade with the West. Egypt wants to position itself as a regional gateway to markets in Africa and this is where India has inherent strategic interests in expanding into the African region. As both the nations maintain a common interest in Africa, there is a wide range of opportunities for Egypt and India to cooperate in market expansion in industries such as pharma, and defence.
The aim should be to further strengthen cooperation in areas such as defence co-production, joint military exercises and training, regional security, and exchange of counter-terrorism information and intelligence. Egypt also wields political influence in West Asia, Arab World and North African region through its active role in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the African Union.
On its part, India could support Egypt’s inclination to join the BRICS group in the future. In addition, Egypt (along with Saudi Arabia) could be included in the ‘Indo-Abrahamic alliance’ often referred to as ‘Middle East or West Asia QUAD’ – a rising geostrategic alliance between India, Israel, UAE and USA.
Egypt is at the centre and heart of the Greater Middle East, and so deeper ties with it could help strengthen the Indo-Abrahamic alliance that has the potential to transform the region’s geopolitics and geoeconomics. Reflecting on the wide congruence of interests and ambitions between the two on several regional and global issues, Egypt has been invited as a special guest to the upcoming G20 meeting to be held under India’s presidency later this year.
Prime Minister Modi announced yesterday that India will elevate its bilateral relations with Egypt to a strategic partnership with the objective to develop a long term framework for greater cooperation in the fields of politics, security, economics and science. This visit gives impetus to India-Egypt ties where the latter’s dual identity as an Afro-Arab nation could be leveraged by New Delhi towards further expanding and deepening engagement with Cairo in the months and years to come.
Mohit Anand is Professor of International Business and Strategy at EMLYON Business School, France. Rajesh Mehta is a leading consultant and columnist working on market entry, innovation and public policy. Views are personal.
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