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Editorial Articles


Issue no 16, 15-21 July 2023

 

India-Egypt Strategic Partnership Navigating Challenges, Embracing Opportunities

 

Sujeet Yadav

The recent developments in IndiaEgypt relations indicate a renewed commitment to strengthening ties and exploring mutual opportunities. With careful navigation of challenges and a focus on realistic objectives, both countries can build a robust relationship that aligns with their respective interests in a rapidly evolving global landscape. India and Egypt share a historical connection dating back to the era of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). However, in subsequent years, political upheavals and shifts in foreign policy priorities created a gap in their relationship. In the past two years, India and Egypt have been steadily pursuing enhanced bilateral cooperation. This positive trajectory was set in motion by visits from India's Foreign Minister, Defence Minister, and military chiefs, leading up to Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi's recent visit to Cairo. This visit is being perceived as a strategic adjustment in India's West Asia policy, reflecting its heightened focus on the region's economic, political, and diasporic aspects. The timing of this improved relation between India and Egypt is largely shaped by Egypt's regional dynamics, its interactions with neighboring countries, and its position within the broader Islamic world. Egypt experienced significant political upheaval during the Arab Spring in 2010, which led to the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule. Egypt's political landscape witnessed the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, raising concerns for many countries, including India. However, the subsequent ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood regime and President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi's renewed ties with Abu Dhabi and Riyadh provided an opportunity for India to rekindle its ties with Cairo and capitalise on the changing dynamics. Presently, India's growing economic influence is defined by its status as the world's most populous nation and the fifth largest economy, surpassing the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, Egypt holds the position of being the second largest economy in Africa and is ardently competing with Nigeria for the top rank. Egypt presents itself as a promising hub for trade and manufacturing activities, serving as a vital gateway for Delhi to access African markets within the framework of the African Continental Free Trade Area. This positions Egypt as an indispensable nucleus, offering India a strategic avenue to establish its presence and engage in commercial endeavors across the African continent. Against this backdrop, the signing of an agreement between Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to elevate the bilateral cooperation to the level of "strategic partnership" has laid a strong foundation for a renewed collaborations and partnerships between the two countries. A multitude of collaborative opportunities exist in various fields such as agriculture, technology, defence, green finance, South-to-South cooperation, and countering terrorism and violent extremism. For instance, there is potential for providing IT solutions and technology to the Egyptian military. However, it's important to acknowledge that expanding military ties requires a gradual process of building trust and acceptance within the Egyptian military, which has historically relied on American military aid and pursued American defence technologies. This partnership also encompasses non-tangible aspects such as cultural exchanges and people to people ties. This emphasis on cultural exchange can promote tourism and create opportunities for collaboration in the hospitality and tourism sectors.

 

Geopolitical Significance: India and Egypt are situated on opposite sides of the Arabian Sea, and Egypt's dominant presence in the Red Sea and control over the Suez Canal holds geopolitical importance for India. The Suez Canal serves as a crucial link between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, enabling access to global markets in Europe and America. This makes Egypt a strategic partner for India, facilitating trade and connectivity to vital regions.

 

Economic Aspects: India and Egypt are working towards achieving a bilateral trade target of USD 12 billion within the next five years. India, being one of the fastest-growing major economies globally, seeks to expand its manufacturing capabilities and views Egypt as a potential market and source of imports for raw materials and energy resources. Currently, India is the sixth largest trading partner of Egypt, while Egypt is the 32nd trade partner of India. Despite a slight decrease in bilateral trade in the fiscal year 2022-23, there is still significant potential for growth. Trade between the two countries amounted to $6.06 billion (EGP 187.2 billion) in 2022-23, with a previous record high of $7.26 billion (EGP 139.4 billion) in 2021-22. Both India and Egypt aim to achieve a bilateral trade target of $12 billion within the next five years, highlighting their commitment to enhancing trade relations. Indian companies have shown a significant interest in investing in Egypt. In the past six months, Indian companies have invested around $170 million in Egypt spanning across various sectors, including infrastructure development, road and transport, telecommunications, education, and the fast-growing energy sector. This demonstrates the confidence Indian businesses have in Egypt's economic growth and potential while showcasing the broad range of opportunities that both countries can explore for mutual benefit. Egypt's significant discoveries of gas fields in the Mediterranean have positioned the country as a potential source of energy for India. India, as a growing economy, requires a stable energy supply, and Egypt's natural gas resources can help meet this demand. Additionally, Egypt's large agricultural sector presents an opportunity for India to import raw materials, such as wheat, to meet its domestic needs.

 

Defence and Security Cooperation: Egypt has been seeking new international security partners due to the changing dynamics in the Middle East and North Africa region. Egypt faces challenges from domestic and global terrorist groups, as well as conflicts in neighboring countries. Therefore, Egypt is keen to modernise its armed forces by acquiring advanced weapons, technology, and training. India, with its growing defence manufacturing capabilities, has become an attractive partner for Egypt. Both countries have engaged in joint military exercises, and Egypt has shown interest in procuring Indian defence equipment, including the Tejas light combat aircraft, radars, and military helicopters. However, there are certain challenges that need to be addressed for a successful defence cooperation between India and Egypt. India is still in the early stages of developing its defence manufacturing capabilities and needs to enhance its logistical support and quality assurance. Additionally, Indian industries need to strive to become more competitive in the international defence trade market, where major players are predominantly based in the US, Europe, and Russia. Overcoming these challenges will require sustained engagement, improved cooperation with external manufacturers, increased investments in research and development, and the adoption of best practices in the field.

 

Maritime Security: The Indian Ocean and the Red Sea are closely interlinked in terms of security. For India, the security of the Indian Ocean is directly related to the security of the Red Sea, which is controlled by Egypt. Similarly, Egypt recognises that the security of the Suez Canal, a vital artery of international trade, is influenced by the security situation in the Indian Ocean. This mutual interdependence emphasises the need for collaboration and cooperation in maritime security between India and Egypt. With India's growing emphasis on enhancing its maritime ties, Egypt's strategic location and control over key waterways make it a valuable partner for India. Due to this, both countries have been actively cooperating in this domain. Joint naval exercises and sharing of information have played a key role in countering piracy, smuggling, and other maritime threats. India has provided training and expertise to Egyptian naval personnel, particularly in coastal surveillance systems. By enhancing Egypt's capabilities in maritime surveillance, India contributes to the overall security of the Red Sea region. Given Egypt's strategic location and control over key maritime routes, strengthening maritime ties with Egypt is crucial for India. The existing collaborations, including joint naval exercises, information sharing, and capacity-building initiatives, have already contributed to enhancing maritime security in the region. As India aims to boost its exports to Europe and America, leveraging Egypt's role as a bridge and hub becomes increasingly important. Therefore, India should continue to explore avenues to deepen its maritime security cooperation with Egypt to ensure the stability and security of vital maritime trade routes.

 

Conclusion: Presently, India and Egypt find themselves in a world where their interests align in maintaining safe spaces with the growing competition between the United States and China and safeguarding their national interests amid Russia's conflict with Ukraine. However, this alignment does not come without complexities, as countries like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia also aspire to play significant roles in a multipolar order. While there may be a temporary alignment of interests to counterbalance major powers, there will inevitably be an undercurrent of competition among these countries within the global order. Contrary to some views, this healthy competition can drive positive outcomes rather than being detrimental.

 

(The author is Delhi based journalist. He can be reached at sujeetkjourno@gmail.com)

Views expressed are personal.