India, Egypt to hold dialogue on defence ties during President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s visit

Egypt’s cautious response to Pakistan’s efforts to raise the Kashmir issue at the OIC and its studied silence on Nupur Sharma’s controversial comments have won appreciation from India

January 20, 2023 10:48 pm | Updated January 21, 2023 07:42 am IST - NEW DELHI

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. File

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. File | Photo Credit: AFP

India and Egypt are likely to seal around half a dozen agreements during the visit of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi who is slated to arrive in New Delhi on January 24 ahead of the Republic Day celebrations where he will be the chief guest. Apart from dialogues on defence, security and new energy initiatives, the two sides have been brought closer by Egypt’s pragmatic diplomacy in arenas such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation where Cairo has increasingly maintained a cautious position while responding to Pakistan’s aggressive campaign on Kashmir. 

As a symbol of closer military ties, the Republic Day parade is on track to have a contingent of 180 personnel from the Egyptian armed forces this year, The Hindu was told. During the state visit of Mr. El Sisi, a postage stamp will be released, portraying the multifaceted partnership between the two countries over the last 75 years.

Collaboration on security, counter terrorism and defence-related matters are expected to feature prominently in the bilateral talks during Mr. El Sisi’s visit, sources have said. Challenges from unmanned aerial vehicles and cyber threats may also feature in the India-Egypt Joint Working Group on terrorism that will meet after the visit.

Both sides have exchanged several ministerial visits in the last year, including by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh (September 2022) and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar (October 2022). Earlier this month, Egypt’s Information Technology Minister Amr Talaat visited Bengaluru and New Delhi and held discussions with private companies like Wipro and government outfits regarding digital campaigns in Egypt. Environment Minister Bhupendra Yadav led the Indian delegation to COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh last November. 

Pragmatic diplomacy

Egypt has reportedly shown interest in several military hardware items that India can offer, including the Akash missile systems. The growing proximity between the two nations was reportedly helped by Egypt’s display of quiet pragmatism on issues that are sensitive to India. 

This element was on display in 2022 when public protests broke out in the Gulf Arab countries after former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma made comments on the Prophet of Islam that were interpreted as offensive. While countries like Kuwait made their displeasure known to the Indian authorities, President El Sisi’s government did not raise the issue in any significant manner. Egypt’s studied silence in this matter understandably helped India, as Cairo’s voice on Islamic issues carries great weight as it hosts the Al Azhar University, the oldest university in the world and the biggest centre of Sunni religious scholarship.

South Block, it was learnt, also took a positive view of Egypt’s attempts to play a balanced role at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation where Pakistan has floated several resolutions on Kashmir and other internal Indian issues in the last few years but failed to receive robust support from Mr. El Sisi’s government. 

Apart from a growing accommodation of each other’s political concerns, there’s also deepening agricultural cooperation between the two sides that has been in focus over the last year when Egypt’s supply of agricultural products was disrupted by the Ukraine crisis. 

Deepening economic ties

Egypt placed an order for a large consignment of wheat last year, but the supply from the Indian side was disrupted because of the embargo that the government imposed to stabilise the domestic agricultural scenario. Cairo, however, received an exemption from the embargo. As a result, a consignment of 61,000 tonnes of wheat was sent subsequently. Sources said that more wheat supplies are expected to take place from the Indian side on a “case by case” basis as India has not yet lifted the restrictions on the export of wheat. 

The visit by President El Sisi will provide India an opportunity to showcase its growing strength in the field of green hydrogen. At least three Indian companies have invested several billion dollars in Egypt’s clean hydrogen projects. Egypt’s infrastructure and health segments are also of interest to Indian entities as Cairo is in the midst of rolling out several mega infrastructure projects. Indian private and public sector majors are reportedly eyeing Egypt’s infrastructure projects like the Suez Canal Economic Zone and the metro line in Alexandria.

India’s ReNew Power is in the process of setting up a $8 billion dollar green hydrogen plant in the Suez Canal Economic Zone. It was also learnt that Apollo Hospital and Medanta have “expressed interest” in building health facilities in major cities of Egypt.

This economic component of bilateral ties is expected to deepen as Egypt is poised to provide Indian companies access to markets in Africa and the Mediterranean where it is a preferred trading partner. 

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