President El-Sisi’s visit reflects the great rapprochement between Egypt and India
El-Sisi's visit to India was aimed at enhancing political and economic relations with India in a changing world.
At the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi attended India’s 74th Republic Day parade as the chief guest on January 26 in New Delhi. His three-day visit from January 24-27 is significant in many ways from India’s perspective. India needs Egypt as a political and economic partner in the African continent for many reasons. Needless to say, El-Sisi’s visit has given India a chance to reassess its relationship with the post-revolutionary Egyptian government while rekindling India's ancient relationship with the 'Pyramid Country' on the occasion of 75 years of establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries this year.
On the other hand, as an emerging power in the African continent, the Egyptian government is also keen to expand bilateral relations with India “based on the historical ties and the huge capabilities that Egypt and India enjoy," to quote President Sisi’s verbatim. El-Sisi who has been Egypt's President since May 2014 is equally interested to know what India's role can be in solving its ongoing economic crisis due to the increase in prices of basic commodities. As such, his visit was aimed at enhancing political and economic relations with India in a changing world. It should be noted here that the inflation rate in Egypt reached 21.9% last month, according to the Egyptian Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS).
However, many international analysts believe that by extending an invitation to an Egyptian President for the first time as the chief guest for the 2023 Republic Day Celebration, India is trying to reconcile its strategic relations with the most significant Arab power on its own terms. Being an influential Arab state, Egypt has been playing a pioneering role in Middle Eastern politics. New Delhi tried to draw the Middle East countries closer by inviting a head of state from an Arab country to the Republic Day celebrations for the first time.
Like the United States, the Modi-led Indian government has been increasingly concerned about China’s growing influence and activities under China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects in the Arab world, as well as Africa. With El-Sisi’s visit, India, with its geopolitical calculations, wants to strengthen its bilateral relations with Egypt in various fields including cultural, economic, and defense. El-Sisi is seen as a bridge for India’s plans to deepen relations in the Arab region. Against the same backdrop, India's closeness with the Gulf countries, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in particular, has also increased in recent years.
It is worth noting that India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar too had visited Cairo in September and October last year. The focus of their visit was on enhancing defense cooperation that included more frequent joint exercises and the exchange of personnel for training. Egypt has been invited as a “guest country” for the G20 summit, which will be held under India’s presidency in September 2023.
Egypt is one of the main gateways to markets in Africa and Europe. Furthermore, Egypt controls the Suez Canal, a very important route of international trade. As such, India is interested in increasing the areas of relations, including agriculture, digital domain, culture, and trade with Egypt. How much importance India has placed on the arrival and meeting of the Egyptian President was revealed in a tweet by PM Modi: “Warm welcome to India, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Your historic visit to India as Chief Guest for our Republic Day celebrations is a matter of immense happiness for all Indians. Look forward to our discussions tomorrow.” During the reign of PM Modi, President El-Sisi visited India three times. He first visited India in October 2015 to participate in the third India-Africa Forum Summit, which was followed by his state visit in September 2016.
President El-Sisi was accompanied by a high-level delegation, including Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Energy Minister Mohamed El-Markabi, and other senior Egyptian officials. He was accorded a ceremonial welcome at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on January 25 where he was welcomed by President Droupadi Murmu and Prime Minister Modi.
On January 25 at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, PM Modi and President El-Sisi discussed a range of bilateral, diplomatic, regional, and international issues of mutual interest, including the Ukraine crisis. S. Jaishankar also held a meeting with the Egyptian President. According to the joint statement released after the Modi-Sisi meeting, both sides agreed to elevate their bilateral ties to the level of “Strategic Partnership” covering political, security, defense, energy, and economic aspects. Notably, Egypt is the first country in the Arab world with which India has entered into such a close strategic relationship. Hailing the Egyptian President’s visit, India’s Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar said, “This momentous visit has touched the hearts of Indians and has left a deep impact.”
At present, the financial condition of Egypt is at the bottom. The economic crisis of Egypt has created a new relationship with India. Last year in May, India exempted Egypt and Lebanon from its ban on wheat exports when Egypt faced a severe food crisis following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine military conflict. A consignment of 61,000 tonnes was delivered to Egypt at a subsidized cost. The gesture was highly appreciated by the Sisi regime. In recent years, trade relations between India and Egypt have strengthened. The total volume of bilateral trade has expanded rapidly in the financial year 2021-22, amounting to 7.26 billion, according to India’s Ministry of External Affairs. After the bilateral meeting, Modi said the two countries decided to take the bilateral trade to US$12 billion in the next five years.
India and Egypt exchanged MoUs in the fields of cyber security, culture, information technology, youth matters, and broadcasting. Regarding his visit, El-Sisi said, “The relations between Egypt and India have been characterized by balance and stability. We have only seen constructive development. We have been all along evolving very positively.”
New Delhi views El-Sisi as the most influential leader in the Arab world who has shown firmness and resolve in the fight against terrorism. President El-Sisi and PM Modi both condemned in unequivocal terms the use of "cross-border terrorism" as a foreign policy instrument.
Currently, Egypt has undertaken an ambitious plan to develop its "Suez Canal Economic Zone" into a global investment hub. Notably, the Suez Canal Economic Zone is also a part of China’s BRI. The El-Sisi government expects a more active and greater involvement of India in this grand project. If Indian companies take part in this project, it will be much easier for them to enter new markets in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.
Addressing a business roundtable organized by Assocham, jointly with Ficci and CII, President El-Sisi invited Indian companies to invest in Egypt, shedding light on the modern port chain Egypt has established on the coasts of the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and the Gulf of Suez. It is learned that leading Indian companies, including ReNew Power and the Adani Group, have expressed to President El-Sisi a "huge interest" in investing in Egypt’s renewable energy sector, the production of green hydrogen, and infrastructure development. It should be noted here that about 50 Indian companies have huge investments in Egypt with a total value of more than $3.2bn in sectors such as chemicals, energy, automobiles, retail, clothing, agriculture, and others, noting that these companies generally provide direct job opportunities for almost 38,000 Egyptians as revealed by India’s Ambassador to Cairo Ajit Gupte.
India with its weaker economy will not be able to compete with the Chinese investments in the Arab world, but India can play a crucial role in Egypt’s infrastructure sectors as well as various economic and industrial fields. Let India exercise its capacity and goodwill in an egalitarian, consultative, and cooperative approach to take the India-Egypt partnership to new heights. PM Modi quite justifiably described the Egyptian President’s visit to India as "historic" and a "matter of immense happiness" to the Indian people. Undoubtedly, El-Sisi’s visit has contributed to upgrading bilateral relations between the two countries and pushing the “Delhi-Cairo axis” to new horizons.