Trade, investment and the promise of moderation and stability in the region are some of the reasons New Delhi should bet big on Egypt, says President Mohamed Morsy
Egypt’s first democratically elected President, Mohamed Morsy, has been caught up in a political storm. The weight of expectations from his country’s high-octane revolution, the demand for quick results and the possible role of elements of the former regime in inflaming tensions by targeting the elected Islamist leadership has imposed considerable strain on the authority of the Egyptian state.
Despite the engulfing challenges, Mr. Morsy seems self-assured and possessed of great clarity of vision as he combines principle with pragmatism, and a soaring ambition, to turn Egypt into an advanced nation that can play an influential role in the region and beyond. In a wide-ranging interview in his imposing office in Cairo, Mr. Morsy spoke to Atul Aneja on several themes including India’s role in promoting democratic Egypt’s aspirations of economic and political revival, Cairo’s interest in joining the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) grouping, and Egypt’s natural “pivotal role” in defusing tensions in West Asia. Excerpts:
Your visit will be the first by a democratically elected Egyptian President. How do you see the future of the bilateral relationship?
I have extremely high hopes of my visit. The Egyptian and the Indian people have a very long history of civilisation that spans thousands of years. This opens up many fields of cooperation especially on account of the very strong political will that we have, based on the objectives of the January 25 revolution [against the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak]. The relationship between India and Egypt would be one of extreme importance in the coming years. The historical roots of the Indian experience — particularly the political experience, the democratic experience since the early 1950s — make me very keen to build this relationship and develop a true partnership so as to benefit from each other. This is the major aim of my visit.
What are the specific areas of interest? Are you thinking of collaborations in the areas of India’s strengths such as Information Technology, space and microcredit? Are you looking for Indian investments in Egypt and vice versa?
Yes of course, I am fully aware of the success of the Indian experience, including the fields that you mentioned especially IT, education, health, eradicating poverty, small industries and electronic industries. Therefore, I keenly look forward to the upcoming interaction, especially with an eye on initiating a process that would result in actual technology transfers. I cannot miss stressing the deep gratitude to the Indian government and people for the strong support that we have found for the Egyptian revolution.
You have spoken about the Al Nahda, or renaissance, project as a vehicle for Egypt’s economic, social and economic revival. In your view, what role can countries such as India, Brazil, and China play in the fulfilment of the Al Nahda vision?
The Al Nahda project is what I presented during the election phase. It covers many themes — upholding values of democracy, social justice and very importantly empowering civil society organisations such as non-governmental organisations, trade unions and syndicates. In the economic field we have very strong plans for the short, midterm and the long term.
Can you give us a sense of the scale of the Al Nahda project? What kind of figures are we looking at?
We have been talking about huge projects with an additional investment of around $200 billion. It covers the development of the Suez Canal axis. Currently, 20 per cent of the world trade is flowing through the Suez. We want to increase that percentage substantially. We are working on developing Suez Canal city, Port Said and Ismailia as the strategic hub for world trade. For industry, we envisage projects in Ismailia. Towards the east of Sinai we have the vision to build a new Silicon Valley as in California. India is of course very advanced in IT and we hope to benefit from that. Another major project is development of broadband, and this will also be carried out in tune with the development of the Suez Canal area. We have been talking of communicating with Indian companies that are operating in the Gulf area to work with us to develop the core plan area. We also have other major projects in the field of agriculture. So far, all the industry in Egypt is the nature of assembly, such as vehicles. We now visualise having more integrated projects from start to finish.
It is therefore important to benefit from countries that have had exceptional experience in the transition from poverty and economic difficulties to stability and prosperity such as India, as well as Brazil and Singapore.
From what you have said and what is available in the public domain, when it comes to heavy manufacturing, you are looking at China. But when it comes to small and medium enterprises, that is where India fits in. You also envisage India playing a leading role in the IT sector. Is that the right way of interpreting your vision?
Yes, in military industry also, India is quite advanced. We should have a unique relationship in this area.
Would you be exploring that in your visit also?
Yes, of course. You have good relations with others in this area. We want a unique relationship between India and Egypt in this area also. Navigation and electronics [are some areas of interest]. [This is necessary] to really establish peace in this area. I can remember what Gandhi said. There is no path towards peace, peace is the path.
Are you then looking at co-development of military equipment?
Yes, and maintenance too. We are not far from this and we still have avenues with Russia and others in the east and west. So, opening of avenues does not mean that we close them with others. I am looking forward to a unique, strong, institutional and mutually beneficial relationship with India. For Indians, we can be a hub for North Africa and Africa as well.
India and Egypt have been co-founding partners of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). How do you look at the future of NAM?
In the Tehran conference of NAM, where Egypt had the presidency of one session before it was handed over to Iran, I spoke very clearly about the importance of the movement.
NAM needs to grow stronger, impart crucial balance and ensure comprehensive peace in today’s world. It is important to note that the goals of global governance will be realised only when there is security for all, peace for all, and all countries participate in running and managing the affairs of this world. We cannot have a single pole dominating the world. NAM can be very effective in this regard, and I am going to test this with the leaders of India. I am also going to South Africa to attend the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) conference and I am also going to raise it there.
The BRICS countries visualise establishing a BRICS bank, which might, when it matures, complement institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Do you support this move in the light of the challenge that Egypt faces in securing the $4.8 billion loan from the IMF? Does Egypt think that it should be part of the BRICS initiative?
I am hoping BRICS would one day become E-BRICS where E stands for Egypt. I hope Egypt will join and make it E-BRICS when we start moving the economy. BRICS has some wonderful ideas, especially the establishment of this bank. It is very important to set up this bank with a developmental perspective that can support countries to achieve high growth rates and to supplement the role of the IMF, World Bank and similar institutions. Imparting balance to financial relationships is very important. In many cases, the power of the economy controls and directs the political aspects. So when you have a group of countries that balances the economic aspects, we have development taking place without political interference from others.
You visited Tehran during the course of the NAM summit, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran was Egypt’s guest at the recent OIC summit. How do we interpret these exchanges? There is a view that this interaction is meant to fulfil Egypt’s aspiration to prevent a sectarian Sunni-Shia clash in the region. Would you agree?
First of all let me say that there is no such thing as a Sunni-Shia conflict. This is one religion — the religion of Islam; there is only diversity. This could have produced perhaps some misconceptions, some differences on points of understanding or political standpoints. We are keen on maintaining our relationship with Iran as in the case of all other countries. While Iran is advanced in certain areas, they are facing challenges. Egypt is also facing challenges. But we are looking forward to maintain strong relations with Iran. However, no way should this harm our relationship with other countries or the interests of the other countries. We have good relations with Arab countries, particularly the Gulf countries. They are our brothers and there is no way that our relationship with Iran can affect our relationship with our brothers. On the contrary, Egypt is keen to strengthen its relationship with the Gulf countries.
Given Egypt’s cordial relations with Iran and the Gulf countries, do you find yourself well positioned to mediate and help reduce tensions in the region?
Yes, we are trying to do that. This is very obvious in regard to our efforts in Syria. We have embarked on four-party efforts that include both Iran and Saudi Arabia. Egypt is playing a pivotal role in terms of convergence among all parties, for example between Arab countries and Iran. We will continue to play this role to prevent divisions related to the situation in the region. Also Al Azhar [university] is playing a major role in this regard because it is the pioneer of the moderation in Islam. It has an outreach [in] many countries and it has exceptional relations with all these countries.
Has Egypt overcome the threat of counter-revolution? What is the root causes of the ongoing clashes in Egypt and how do you plan to overcome them?
The Egyptian revolution that started on January 25, 2011 was a huge revolution. It has been two years and two months approximately and this has been a stage of transition. There are huge aspirations and challenges, but at the same time there are some who do not want to see all of the goals of the revolution being realised. There are problems but we are dealing with them. The last stage would be the parliamentary elections and from there we will be able to achieve stability and continue to realise all the goals and establish reconciliation among all classes and segments of the Egyptian people. This will happen in the coming few months. There is a price that people pay to get freedom, democracy, and social justice and what Egypt is going through is a part of paying this price. The Egyptian people are capable of passing through this and overcoming this phase of difficulty.