India – Egypt Bilateral Relationship

Context: India and Egypt are likely to seal around half a dozen agreements during the visit of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi who is slated to arrive in New Delhi on January 24 ahead of the Republic Day celebrations where he will be the chief guest.

Historical Background

  • India and Egypt are two of the world’s ancient civilizations with a history of close contact. Numerous historians have recorded the common heritage of the ancient civilizations of these two countries. Some historians have attempted to conclude that the Dravidians from India laid the foundations of Egyptian civilization.
  • Egyptians also believe in the traditional discourse that they originally came from the South, from a land called Punt, which a historian, Dr H.R. Hall, thought referred to some part of India. Adolf Erman (1854-1937), author of the book “Life in ancient Egypt”.
  • There is also a clear mention of good relations with Egypt in Emperor Ashoka’s edicts. In Ashoka’s thirteenth rock edict, inscribed in the early decades of the third century B. C, Ashoka mentions his contacts with Ptolemy II Philadelphus of Egypt (285-246 BC). In modern history, the freedom movement of both countries had common threads wherein Mahatma Gandhi and Saad Zaghloul shared similar goals towards gaining independence.

Political relationship

  • India and Egypt share close political understanding based on long history of contacts and cooperation in bilateral, regional and global issues.
  • The joint announcement of establishment of diplomatic relations at Ambassadorial level was made on 18 August 1947.
  • Both countries have cooperated closely in multilateral fora and were the founding members of Non-Aligned Movement.
  • India-Egypt relations could not, however, maintain the positive momentum in the coming decades, especially after Anwar Sadat became the President. With Sadat choosing to align with the US and India ideologically aligned with the USSR during the cold war period, the relations remained low-key.
  • Ties remained stagnant until a breakthrough in November 2008, when President Hosni Mubarak visited India. Bilateral ties had stalled due to mutual neglect, and it was time to change that. Both sides decided to establish a Strategic and Security Policy Dialogue at the level of foreign ministers
  • The year 2022 is of particular significance since it marks the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between India and Egypt.

Economic Relationship

  • Egypt has traditionally been one of India’s most important trading partners on the African continent. The India-Egypt Bilateral Trade Agreement has been in operation since March 1978 and is based on the Most Favoured Nation clause and the bilateral trade has increased more than five times in last ten years. Bilateral trade has expanded rapidly in 2021-22, amounting to 7.26 billion registering a 75% increase compared to FY 2020-21.
  • India’s exports to Egypt during this period amounted to US$ 3.74 billion, registering a 65% increase over the same period in FY 2020-21. At the same time, Egypt’s exports to India reached US$ 3.52 billion registering an 86% increase.
  • During this period of 2021-22, the top Indian imports from Egypt were Mineral Oil/Petroleum, Fertilizers, Inorganic Chemicals and Cotton and main items of export to Egypt from India were Buffalo Meat, Iron & Steel, Light Vehicles and Cotton Yarn. According to the Egyptian Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), India was 3rd largest export market for Egypt, 6th largest trading partner and 7th largest exporter to Egypt.
  • Wheat export from India: Russia-Ukraine conflict has threatened Egypt with a shortage for wheat, 80% of which is imported from Russia and Ukraine. On 14 April 2022, Egyptian Cabinet announced inclusion of India in the list of accredited countries which can supply wheat to Egypt, thus ending a long pending Non-Tariff Barrier. Though the ban on wheat exports in India posed a difficulty in concluding the shipment, an initial shipment of 61,500 metric tons of wheat was cleared by India for Egypt on 17th May 2022. The shipment is expected to reach in early June 2022. A BSM for Indian wheat and corn is also being planned by the Mission.

Defence relations

  • Egypt and India enjoy cordial defence relations. There was close cooperation between the Air Forces, with efforts at jointly developing a fighter aircraft in the 1960s. Egypt participated in the Multinational Training Exercise for friendly African countries held at Pune in March 2019.
  • The first ever IAF-EAF Joint Tactical Air Exercise, Dessert Warrior, was held from 29-31 October 2021. 5 x Mirage-2000s and 1 tanker (IL-78) participated in the exercise from India. The exercise comprised of advanced manoeuvrings, including air-to-air refuelling.

Cultural Relations

  • The Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture (MACIC) has been promoting cultural cooperation between the two countries, through regular activities such as Hindi, Urdu and Yoga classes; seminars; film shows; exhibitions and participation in local cultural activities.

Indian Community

  • At present, the Indian community in Egypt numbers at around 3200, most of whom are concentrated in Cairo. There are also a small number of families in Alexandria, Port Said and Ismailia. A majority of the Indians are either employed with Indian companies or are professionals with various multinationals.

Importance of Egypt

  • Egypt is a pillar of the Arab world and a key regional leader of the African continent. The Suez Canal, connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, offers the shortest sea link between the East and the West. As the largest Arab nation with a population of over 80 million, Egypt has traditionally played a central role in regional politics for decades.
  • Egypt plays a pivotal role in managing relations with Iran and Turkey and combating sea piracy across the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. Egypt also possesses one of the largest and most well-equipped armed forces in the region and has the 10th largest army in the world. Egypt’s importance to the area is therefore undeniable. As a result, there is a strong connection between the various developments within Egypt and the region.
  • As India seeks to expand its economic and strategic interests in the Gulf region and Africa and further strengthen its ‘Look West’ policy, peace and stability in the area are critical. Egypt forms a key vector in this equation.

Features of the upcoming bilateral Talks

  • Republic Day parade is on track to have a contingent of 180 personnel from the Egyptian armed forces this year.
  • During the state visit of Mr. El Sisi, a postage stamp will be released, portraying the multifaceted partnership between the two countries over the last 75 years.
  • Collaboration on security, counter terrorism and defence-related matters are expected to feature prominently in the bilateral talks during Mr. El Sisi’s visit
  • Challenges from unmanned aerial vehicles and cyber threats may also feature in the India-Egypt Joint Working Group on terrorism that will meet after the visit.
  • The visit by President El Sisi will provide India an opportunity to showcase its growing strength in the field of green hydrogen. At least three Indian companies have invested several billion dollars in Egypt’s clean hydrogen projects.
  • Egypt has reportedly shown interest in several military hardware items that India can offer, including the Akash missile systems. The growing proximity between the two nations was reportedly helped by Egypt’s display of quiet pragmatism on issues that are sensitive to India. 
  • Apart from a growing accommodation of each other’s political concerns, there’s also deepening agricultural cooperation between the two sides that has been in focus over the last year when Egypt’s supply of agricultural products was disrupted by the Ukraine crisis.

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