Krishna takes the lead in establishing robust relations with Egypt
India has started rebooting its ties with Egypt, which is stirring out of the Mubarak-era dormancy and is looking for new friends and allies to realise its goal of becoming an independent regional heavyweight.
External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna is leading this effort at exploring the possibility of establishing a robust relationship with Egypt. The context of his visit is significant. India and Egypt were once “soulmates” in the international arena during the presidency of the late Gamal Abdel Nasser, but their relations hit a dramatic low after Anwar Sadat came to power. The distancing was natural during the Cold War: both countries were on the opposite side of the ideological fence — Egypt moved closer to the U.S. and India bonded ever more closely with the Soviet Union.
But with the fall of President Hosni Mubarak and Egypt emerging as a democracy — though, possibly with Islamist characteristics since the Muslim Brotherhood did so well in the recent parliamentary elections — a fresh opportunity has arisen to revive the ties and take them along on an exciting and unchartered path.
“We want to impart new balance to our foreign policy and we are paying the utmost importance to the Brazil-Russia-India-China grouping,” an Egyptian diplomat said, wishing not to be named.
With the Muslim Brotherhood making dramatic gains, Egypt wants to realise its rightful place, especially in the Sunni Muslim universe, analysts say. That means raising the religious and intellectual status of the more than a 1,000-year-old Al Azhar University, so that its global standing and the weight of its pronouncements grow higher.
It is likely that as Egypt — fiercely independent and with a self-belief in leadership — develops its unique blend of democracy and religion, its Islamist modernisers may find themselves competing for intellectual and political space with countries such as Turkey, which is equally ambitious to exercise leadership in the region, and Saudi Arabia.
Paradoxically, some members of the Muslim Brotherhood do not anticipate a particularly rough ride in Egypt's ties with Iran, whose Shia Muslim leadership has largely been uncontested so far.
It is significant that during his stay, Mr. Krishna will hold a separate meeting with Mohamed Morsy, leader of the Freedom and Justice Party, which is the electoral face of the Muslim Brotherhood. That will give the Minister a “feel” of the thinking among the Brotherhood's leaders, most of whom are highly educated, and, within their ranks, have a rich bouquet of technocrats and entrepreneurs.
The Muslim Brothers are bound to play a major role in drafting a new constitution as well as in the presidential elections, which will be held in mid-May. They are also likely to bridge ties between the radical Salafis and young liberals, who had been out in full strength at the Tahrir Square during the anti-Mubarak uprising, but did poorly in the elections.
As India and Egypt begin to re-engage, they are starting with bonding in the economic arena. During Mr. Krishna's stay, Indian and Egyptian technocrats, under the umbrella of a joint commission, will meet to explore opportunities in information technology, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, energy, science and technology as well as trade and commerce. “We are eventually aiming to enter into strategic areas which will be of mutual advantage to both countries,” said a diplomatic source.
More pointed discussions that could give a fresh political direction to the relationship are expected during Mr. Krishna's talks on Sunday with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which gives the nation its interim leadership. At the United Nations Security Council, India recently voted controversially on Syria with the Arab countries and the western powers. Mr. Krishna and Nabil ElAraby, head of the Arab League, are expected to discuss the volatile situation in the region on Saturday.