New Delhi: India and Egypt are charting out an increasingly strategic bilateral relationship with more focus on defence and security aspects. While New Delhi is looking at Cairo as its next big market for arms exports, Egypt is eager to play a key role in yielding its influence in Asia as a representative of both Africa and the Arab world.
India and Egypt are now partnering with each other across all spectrums of their bilateral ties based on a sound historical and traditional relationship. From exporting wheat to Egypt despite a ban on its shipments to greater military-to-military relationship, India is leaving no stone unturned to bring Egypt under its strategic embrace.
A delegation from the Egyptian Air Force will be visiting this month led by their Air Chief Mahmoud Foaad Abd El-Gawad “to scout for India’s defence equipment” as New Delhi eyes more and more markets to export its defence items post the success of sale of Brahmos to the Philippines in January this year, official sources told ThePrint.
India and Egypt are currently holding a major exercise between both the Air Forces touted to be a “unique exercise with Air assets in a Large Force Engagement environment, simulating various conflict scenarios. The exercise is aimed at enhancing defence cooperation between the two countries and exchange of best practices”, according to a statement issued by the Defence Ministry last week.
“In the present geopolitical scenario, this exercise provides a unique opportunity to showcase the reach and capability of the IAF. It will also provide an opportunity to showcase the Su-30 MKI manufactured in India by HAL and our country’s expertise for deeper indigenisation of spares and components,” it said.
Sources also said that encouraged by the Brahmos deal — talks for which are also on with Vietnam — New Delhi is increasingly looking at Egypt for a range of its defence produce as Cairo looks to consistently expand and diversify its military hardware.
With concerns growing about India being unable to source repair and spare parts for its Russian equipment, New Delhi is now relying on Cairo to provide these as Egypt also has robust defence ties with Russia, sources said.
India and Egypt are also closely aligning themselves on the security situation in Afghanistan. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar met his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly last year to discuss the issue.
Anil Trigunayat, a former Indian envoy to Jordan, Libya, and Malta, told ThePrint that Egypt was looking for more defence items with India but that “they want joint collaborations”.
“Egypt is an important country. It is a unique part of Africa and the Arab world. They have continued to maintain a good relationship with Russia in terms of defence partnership, which is good for India,” he said. “They regard themselves to be a major player. India also wants to collaborate with them on counterterrorism.”
The balancing act
According to another official, like India, Egypt is also playing the “fine balancing act” wherein it’s trying to keep a balance not only between the West and Africa but also with the Arab world and Asia. Thus, the country is now featuring prominently in India’s foreign policy.
Last Tuesday, the Indian Navy’s INS Kochi, deployed in the Red Sea, visited Port Safaga in Egypt. Personnel from both the navies also carried out ship visits. On her departure from Safaga on 30 June, INS Kochi participated in a Maritime Partnership Exercise with the Egyptian Navy ships ENS Al Zubair and ENS Abu Ubadah (Lurssen Class Offshore Patrol Boats).
— India in Egypt (@indembcairo) July 1, 2022
“Cairo plays a hybrid role in Africa. Egypt is positioning itself as a political, economic, and security gateway to the rest of the continent and is itself a rising strategic player with a growing security and intelligence footprint across Africa. Egypt has staked its geoeconomic strategy on its engagement with the rest of the continent,” said a report by the Middle East Institute (MEI).
According to the MEI report, by “reshaping” their bilateral ties New Delhi and Cairo can “establish a new security architecture for West Asia that addresses the region’s challenges in light of the US’s pivot to the Indo-Pacific”.
From wheat exports to pharmaceuticals
Egypt has been a historical friend of India as both are founding members of the Non-Alignment Movement. However, as a result of a number of high-level visits of late between both sides, India and Egypt are now looking at a joint balancing act.
Starting from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit there in 2015, which was followed up by a visit to India by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, both sides have been helping each other across other sectors too such as health and food security.
In 2020, during the peak of the Covid pandemic Prime Minister Modi had spoken to Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, President of Egypt over a phone call. Recently, despite putting a ban on the export of wheat from India, New Delhi ensured that shipments to Cairo continued.
India exported Covid vaccines to Egypt in March 2021.
Egypt is now depending on India for its wheat supplies as its main suppliers Russia and Ukraine have stopped doing it due to the ongoing war.
Last month, President Sisi praised Indian pharmaceutical firms for their contribution to Egypt.
‘Security ties with Egypt is key’
According to Ashok Sajjanhar, a veteran diplomat, security ties with Egypt are key for India’s own interests.
“Egypt is emerging as a significant player and they are trying to maintain a balance between the main powers similar to what India is doing. This is also part of India’s multi-alliance strategy. India is a partner with which we can collaborate. Countries these days don’t want to pick sides. Countries are now looking at their own interests. They want to have greater options and greater possibilities,” he said.
Sajjanhar, who was India’s envoy to Kazakhstan, also said: “Egypt straddles across many different areas, both geographically as well as politically. It’s the only country in Africa to do so. It is also part of the Arab World and it is also very close to the Gulf, so in that way also our partnership with Egypt will prove to be fruitful. In both these areas, India will find it useful to partner with Egypt”.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)