Narendra Modi’s Egypt outreach can help India expand its asset base in North Africa

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el Sisi was in India last week. However, Sisi’s visit didn’t drawn in the kind of attention of media that it deserved.

Civilisational ties apart, India and Egypt have been traditional allies ever since Gamel Abdel Naseer assumed power in 1952 overthrowing King Farook. Naseer and Nehru were great friends and were the chief architects in the formation of Non Aligned Movement (NAM). In the 1956 war, Nehru steadfastly stood by Naseer and threatened to pull out of the British Commonwealth if Egypt did not receive British support. Both laid a solid foundation on NAM and bilateral ties, which fortunately continues to flourish despite ups and downs and the occasional turbulence in Egypt.

Naseer’s successor Anwar Sadat, continued the momentum between the two countries and Hosne Mubarak, who succeeded Sadat in 1981 paid a productive visit to India in 2008. Significantly, in the aftermath of Arab Spring leading to Mubarak’s unceremonious ouster from power, things initially looked uncertain on Indo- Egyptian ties. The new leader Mohammad Morsi being a diehard Islamic Brotherhood figure, skeptics were wary of his approach towards the non Islamic countries. Morsi, amid increasing domestic upheavals, chose not to ignore India and visited the country. His standing in the international community was below par in terms of credibility largely due to the fact that Egypt, under his leadership, was seen to be drifting towards Islamic radicalism — which also saw systematic killings of the minority Coptic Christians .

In his India visit, Sisi, the military high profile President may not have drawn substantial media attention, both in print and electronic, yet the bilateral talks between the prime minister and him did yield tangible results, especially the security and defence deal that was signed by the two nations.

The highlight of the deal is to bolster both the countries’ concern for growing threats of terrorism and ongoing radicalisation — a core area that merits complete attention. Egypt has been seeing IS sponsored terror for a considerable amount of time, especially in the areas adjoining Sharm El Sheikh and also on aviation security with sky piracy threats to its commercial airlines.

Also, because of its relative proximity to Syria, radicalisation and terror incidents loom large on the Egyptian horizon. The deal under reference, therefore, can redress the menace by a robust joint cooperation. Security professionals must work out a near fool proof mechanism to combat radicalisation. More specifically, India and Egypt should proactively engage in exchange of hard time intelligence to foil any radicalisation programmes and Egypt remains in a position to collaborate. However, Egyptian intelligence does not appear to be as professional as the Indian federal intelligences — here is an opportunity to orient them and receive actionable intelligence by gaining a foothold under the aegis of this security and defence deal.

The prime minister aptly described Egypt as a natural bridge between Asia and Africa and as such defence trade, training and combat capacity building have been touched upon in the deal. On his part, President Sisi has pledged to work towards vigorous security cooperation for intensification of bilateral trade and investment cooperation.

India and Egypt trade relations in the fields of oil and power are also full of promise. Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC) facilitates import of crude oil. Power KEC India and its Egyptian counterpart have had a transaction of over $ 8.9 million for supply of overhead transmission towers for Egypt-Jordan supplies. Further, in the transport sector, Ashok Leyland, Tata Motors, Maruti Suzuki and Mahendra and Mahendra are already marketing their vehicles. Bajaj’s three-wheelers have a vibrant presence in Egypt. Indian films and actors are very popular in Egypt, making the country as a natural friend of India.

All said and done, security and defence deal appear to be the most striking feature of Sisi’s visit, needing to be carried forward without any creases. Through Egypt, India can expand its asset base in other North African countries including Algeria, Morocco, Libya , Chad and Sudan. All these countries are Islamic and need of the hour is to consolidate friendship with them. This should help India diplomatically to isolate Pakistan on Kashmir and Balochistan, especially when Pakistan has embarked upon a diplomatic offensive on Kashmir. Egypt, a trusted friend, can be well appropriated to foil Pakistani attempts to Islamise Kashmir.


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