The visit to Cairo primarily focused on three core areas of economy, defense and security issues. Deepening engagement in the economic sphere and, at the same time, strengthening defense and security cooperation, with a particular emphasis on counter-terrorism
Prasanta Kumar Pradhan
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Egypt on 24–25 June 2023 has significant implications for the bilateral relationship between the two countries. During the visit, both countries signed three MoUs on Agriculture, Archaeology & Antiquities and Competition Law. Besides, India and Egypt also signed a ‘Strategic Partnership’.
It must be noted here that both countries had agreed to forge a strategic partnership between them in January 2023, when President Abdel Fattah El Sisi visited India and participated in Republic Day celebrations as the Chief Guest.
In Cairo, Modi and Sisi discussed a range of bilateral issues including the economy, energy, defense and security ties. Additionally, President Sisi bestowed upon Prime Minister Modi the prestigious ‘Order of the Nile’, the highest civilian award in Egypt.
The India–Egypt relationship has experienced significant improvement since the assumption of power by Prime Minister Modi and President Sisi in 2014. Both the leaders intend to further strengthen ties and revive the warmth between the two countries that characterized their relationship in the past. President Sisi has made three visits to India during his tenure, demonstrating his commitment to strengthening bilateral relations. He participated in the India–Africa Forum Summit in Delhi in 2015, undertook a State visit to India in 2016 and most recently in January 2023.
Recognizing Egypt as a crucial political and military power in its extended neighborhood, India places great importance on its relationship with Egypt. Geopolitically, Egypt actively engages in Arab politics and holds a unique advantage due to its strategic location connecting the Red Sea, the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea.
There is a lot of scope for further expansion of the bilateral trade between the two countries. At present, the bilateral trade between India and Egypt stands at US$ 6.95 billion which is below the potential keeping in view that both the countries are fast-growing economies. New areas of engagement such as renewable energy, food security and cooperation in the health sector will further strengthen bilateral trade and commerce. Both intend to double the bilateral total trade to US$ 12 billion by 2028.
The Suez Canal is known as the economic lifeline of Egypt. India intends to improve trade and investment with Egypt using the Suez Canal Economic Zone (SCZONE). This issue was discussed in January 2023 during Sisi’s visit to India. The SCZONE has the potential to serve as a strategic hub for India to access markets in Africa and Europe. Recently, the SCZONE authorities have announced their readiness to offer “a dedicated cluster in the industrial and logistics hub” to India.
This collaborative initiative will facilitate increased investment from India into Egypt while simultaneously benefitting India by offering enhanced access to key markets.
India–Egypt cooperation in the field of defense and security has received a special focus under the leadership of Modi and Sisi. India is keen to strengthen its defense and security corporation with Egypt. In recent years, there has been an accelerated military-to-military engagement between the two countries. Indian naval ships have made regular visits and port calls to Egypt. Navies of both countries have engaged in joint exercises, training and port calls.
India and Egypt conducted their first-ever air exercise ‘Desert Warrior’ in Egypt. In July 2022, Indian Air Force participated in the Tactical Leadership Programme of the Egyptian Air Force Weapons School. Similarly, in January 2023, Indian Army and the Egyptian Army conducted their first-ever joint exercise in Rajasthan, ‘Exercise Cyclone-I’, intended to exchange expertise on several issues including counter-terrorism.
As the militaries of both countries have substantial experience in combating terrorism in their respective countries, joining hands together and engaging with each other in sharing their strategy and skills in fighting terror will be beneficial for both.
The deepening political engagement has provided the trust to both countries to plan joint defense manufacturing and co-production. But there remain significant challenges in this regard in future as it would require huge investment, sharing technology and the political will and trust in each other. Besides, Egypt has also expressed interest in buying Tejas fighter jets and Akash missiles from India.
Like India, Egypt also faces huge challenges posed by terrorism. A number of terrorist groups have been operating from the Sinai Peninsula spreading their activities and networks. Terrorist groups such the ISIS, Al Qaeda and other local militant and jihadi organizations also operate in this region. This has emerged as a major security challenge for the Egyptian government.
Some of these groups have established networks throughout different countries in the West Asia and North African region. ISIS, in particular, has been highly active and has launched several deadly terrorist attacks in the country often targeting the security forces and minority communities. The Sisi government has been particularly serious about forging counter-terror cooperation with India. Both Sisi and Modi have identified terrorism as the ‘gravest threat’ and agreed to cooperate in all possible ways.
India and Egypt are important countries in the Global South and there is a convergence of interest between both the countries on the issues and challenges facing the global south. Among other countries, India has invited Egypt as a guest country during India’s G20 presidency this year.
There is also a convergence of interest between the two countries on the key issues of G20 engagement such as sustainable development, climate change, energy security, food security and so on. Egypt has expressed its support to India to work together on G20 issues and both believe that the issues of the Global South should be accorded due priority in G20. Ministers from Egypt have participated in several meetings held in India under its G20 presidency.
Modi’s visit to Cairo primarily focused on three core areas of economy, defense and security issues. Deepening engagement in the economic sphere and, at the same time, strengthening defense and security cooperation, with a particular emphasis on counter-terrorism, are the central pillars of the India–Egypt engagement today. The decision to elevate the bilateral ties to a strategic level, as evidenced by the visit of President Sisi to India in January and the subsequent signing of a strategic partnership agreement during Modi’s visit, underscores the mutual commitment to foster a robust and enduring strategic partnership.
Dr Prasanta Kumar Pradhan is Research Fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, New Delhi
Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.
This article first appeared in the Comments section of the website (www.idsa.in) of Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, New Delhi on June 28, 2023