On 26 January, India will be celebrating Republic Day, the anniversary of the promulgation of the Indian Constitution of 1950, which occurred two years after the country obtained independence from Britain in 1948.
The day is marked by numerous activities, from military parades to cultural events. It is also the custom for India to invite an international figure as guest of honour to the day, with that person’s participation in the parades and official events indicating his or her status and the place his or her country has with respect to India and its people.
This year, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has been selected for this important role in the celebrations commemorating this day in the history of post-independence India.
The invitation simultaneously celebrates India’s close relations with Egypt and affirms the lasting nature of this relationship based on mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, and respect for the UN Charter and international law.
This is only natural, as the two countries were cofounders of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in the 1950s, and they share its commitment to lofty principles that the world now desperately needs more than ever in these times of conflict, economic sanctions, and an unprecedented spike in international polarisation.
Inevitably, President Al-Sisi and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will discuss the current state of the world and the need for the NAM and other Third World countries to unite to fend off today’s pressures and threats while working together to promote mutual investment and trade and the defence of their economies.
Along with their roles in the context of the NAM, the BRICS group of the world’s leading emerging economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – offers another horizon within which Cairo and New Delhi can develop their relations and increase their collective influence in international affairs.
This will allow them to promote new frameworks for strengthening cooperation among the BRICS and NAM nations and between their members and the wider international community.
Among the main features of the deepening bilateral relationship between India and Egypt in recent years has been closer strategic and military cooperation. Efforts towards this end have come as a result of the realisation that safeguarding maritime security from the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea and Gulf of Suez is crucial not just to Egypt and India but also to the Gulf countries whose security is integrally bound up with Egypt’s while India relies on the Gulf for many of its energy resources.
Egyptian-Indian collaboration in security affairs therefore serves not just to protect international trade through these crucial waterways, but also to safeguard peace and stability in a vital region.
The fact that the US Navy has handed over the command of Combined Task Force (CTF) 153, which focuses on security in the Red Sea, to the Egyptian Navy is a sign of its good reputation and the international respect that its capacities draw along with the confidence in the Egyptian government’s leadership and policies. These seek to promote the welfare of peoples around the world and regional and international security and stability.
India, too, enjoys a similar degree of respect for its leadership and policies and diplomacy. The visit of Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to Egypt and his meeting with President Al-Sisi in September 2022 was proof that Cairo and New Delhi fully appreciate their combined strategic weight as well as their joint responsibility to work together to promote peace, stability, and security in the region.
During his visit, Singh and his Egyptian counterpart Mohamed Zaki discussed ways to boost military and security cooperation through training, the exchange of know-how and expertise, and programmes to build the capacities of their respective defence industries. India also officially invited Egypt to attend the Indian-Africa Defence Dialogue (IADD) that was held in October 2022 to discuss defence in the Indian Ocean region.
The talks during Singh’s visit naturally covered another crucial field of cooperation: counterterrorism. The two countries have been working together in this area for some time. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry hosted the first and second meetings of the Egyptian-Indian Joint Working Group (JWG) on Counter Terrorism in 2016 and 2018, as well as a series of meetings between their national security advisers and other officials involved in the fight against terrorism and extremism.
Both countries share the conviction that terrorism is a phenomenon that cannot be associated with a particular religion, culture, or people and that the international community must shoulder its responsibility to fight terrorist organisations and the countries that sponsor terrorism.
The two sides agreed that it is important to benefit from the wealth of experience and expertise that Egypt has acquired in combatting this transnational threat. They also stressed that a comprehensive approach covering sociocultural, economic, and developmental, educational, and ideological dimensions is essential to remedying the terrorist plight.
As the foregoing shows, the broad strategic framework of Egyptian-Indian relations has become key to promoting and preserving the security and stability of this region and the rest of the world. We should also not forget that India, as an emergent economic power, offers Egypt a market for its products and a stable source for its imports, as well as various technologies that Egypt needs.
India, whose relations with Egypt go back centuries, has consistently supported Egypt’s drive to modernise and develop. Today, the volume of bilateral trade between the two countries has topped $4.8 billion and investments have reached around $3.6 billion. Cooperation in education and training in various fields are more than additional facets in this relationship. They have deepened the friendship between Egypt and India and strengthened the bonds of mutual support between two peoples who have similar customs and traditions and who are working hard, despite various challenges, to attain their sustainable development goals.
Even as India and Egypt are being brought even closer together by the practical concerns of navigating the tumultuous currents in the world today, we should also not forget the chapters they have penned together in the history of the resistance to British colonialism and their contributions to anti-imperialism.
From Egyptian nationalist Saad Zaghlul’s leadership of the Egyptian independence movement in the early decades of the last century and Gandhi’s pioneering model of peaceful resistance to British rule in India at the same time through former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel-Nasser’s and Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement and championing of the Third World liberation movement, Egypt and India have sustained their legacy as trailblazers in the development of the modern nation-state in the Third World.
It should thus come as no surprise today that these great countries, both cradles of civilisations that have been sources of inspiration to humankind, have drawn closer together in the interest of promoting enlightenment and development, peace and prosperity, and a better and safer future for this region and the world.
The writer is former assistant foreign minister.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 January, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.