New Delhi: The visit by the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi who is the chief guest at this year’s Republic Day celebrations, is being seen as one filled with nostalgia and bonhomie of the relationship between India and Egypt since the era of Egyptian President Abdel Gamal Nasser and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will be the first Egyptian leader to be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations. India and Egypt are likely to enhance their strategic partnership through a series of agreements during the Egyptian leader’s “historic” visit to Delhi to widen and deepen their bilateral relationship.
The agreements would lay the groundwork for stronger cooperation between the two countries in a host of areas including security, defence, energy, trade, and investment. Besides, the two sides are also likely to discuss ways to increase cooperation in areas like agriculture, Information Communications Technology (ICT), pharmaceuticals, and counter-terrorism.
Sisi has been to India twice before. But this visit is special as it can revive the strong ties the two countries once enjoyed.
With significant changes having taken place in their respective regions and the world in subsequent years, it has led to new thinking in their relationship. Therefore, the relevance of the relationship will now depend on how the two sides manage to deal with the opportunities and challenges they face.
Cairo officials are gung-ho about the visit and describe it as “ground-breaking” as it could elevate the relationship to a much higher level. A military contingent from Egypt will participate in the Republic Day parade to signal the growing ties between the two sides.
The Egyptian President will meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on January 25. The two leaders are likely to discuss the prevailing regional and global situation and share their perspectives on important developments.
Nearly half a dozen agreements and Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) are likely to be signed by the two sides during the Egyptian President’s visit.
On January 26, Sisi will share the dais with Indian President Droupadi Murmu and other senior Indian leaders as he enjoys the parade and the celebrations of Republic Day as its chief guest.
Modi and Sisi both came to power in 2014 with a vision to modernise and develop their respective countries so that they could play an important role on the international stage.
In this context, the security of the Indian Ocean (IoR) region has been given a lot of importance by the Indian leadership as it is closely linked to the country’s growth and development. India has expanded its presence and options in recent years in the Indian Ocean and the Indo-Pacific region by engaging and conducting joint naval exercises with a number of countries.
Egypt, a dominant player in the Red Sea region, could contribute meaningfully to the stability of the Indian Ocean and work closely with Delhi. In recent years, Cairo has emerged as a key player in developments in West Asia, the Horn of Africa, and Africa, and increased its naval capabilities to meet the challenges in the region.
More than $200 billion of India’s imports and exports pass through the Suez Canal, and therefore it makes sense for India to maintain strong ties with Egypt.
Defence cooperation is an important area that will be discussed during Sisi’s visit. Egypt has shown interest in procuring Indian defence equipment like the Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA), Akash short-range surface-to-air missile system, and radars.
Agricultural cooperation is another sector in which Egypt has shown a lot of interest. India had exported 61,000 tons of wheat to help Egypt tide over a food crisis last year. This could now expand into regular cooperation where India exports wheat to Cairo and imports fertilizers from Egypt to ensure that their food supply chains are not disrupted in future.
Unfortunately, Sisi’s visit takes place amid an economic crisis in Egypt. The national currency has lost half its value in less than a year and the country has been battling surging inflation in recent months. The IMF has approved a $3 billion support package for Egypt.
President Sisi has described the situation as “very difficult” but asked people to keep faith in him to improve the situation. India’s trade with Egypt has already reached $7 billion and is likely to reach $12 billion by the year end. Investment in renewable energy could also be around $20 billion, according to Egyptian officials.
Egypt’s strategic location allows Indian businesses and investors to reach the European Union market through the FTA Egypt has with the EU. It also gives India access to markets in West Asia and Africa.
During their talks, Sisi and his team are likely to convince the Indian leadership that despite the economic crisis, which is largely due to the Ukraine war, Egypt continues to be an attractive trade and investment destination for India. As India tries to enhance its strategic partnership with Egypt, this is an aspect that is unlikely to be ignored by Delhi.