In President Sisi visit, India and Egypt look to rekindle non-aligned era ties 

India and Egypt have both followed a balancing policy towards the Ukraine conflict

January 25, 2023 02:08 am | Updated January 26, 2023 10:23 am IST - NEW DELHI

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi arrives at Air Force Station Palam in New Delhi on January 24, 2023.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi arrives at Air Force Station Palam in New Delhi on January 24, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI

Egyptian President Abdel Fateh el-Sisi arrived here on Tuesday on a four-day state visit. Mr. Sisi is the first Egyptian leader to be invited as the chief guest for the Republic Day Parade.

During the visit, officials said, both sides will sign several MoUs and discuss taking ties forward on strategic issues, defence, trade, agriculture and renewable energy.

The invitation to Mr. Sisi is also being seen as part of the government’s push to engage the “Global South”, and as a rekindling of the principles of non-alignment that have come back to the fore after the Russian war in Ukraine began in February last year. Mr. Sisi, who visited India twice before, is expected to return later this year for the G-20 summit, where India has invited Egypt as a special guest country.

“Even without coordination, Egypt and India have similar positions at the United Nations today. We have civilisational ties, and the way our thinking has developed — principles of non-intervention, respectful of sovereignty, no use of force — these are all pertinent even today, as we have seen recently in the Ukraine conflict,” a senior Egyptian diplomat who served in India as Ambassador previously told The Hindu.

Former Indian Ambassador to Egypt Navdeep Suri said the invitation to Mr. Sisi as Republic Day chief guest was an “important gesture” by the Modi government at a time the world was “re-discovering multipolarity”. He pointed out that in the wake of Western sanctions against Russia for the war in Ukraine, and a ban on wheat exports in India, the Modi government had made an exception for Egypt.

“As the world’s largest importer of wheat much of it from Ukraine and Russia, Egypt was in a uniquely vulnerable position, and India’s assistance bridged what could have become a major gap in supply for them,” he said. “The fact is in a world where the need for strategic autonomy is replacing many traditional alliances in the developing world, India and Egypt are finding more and more in common,” he added.

India and Egypt were co-founders of the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) in 1961 along with Yugoslavia, Indonesia and Ghana. Ties between India and Egypt grew under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and President Gamal Abdel Nasser, especially after India’s support to Egypt during the Suez Crisis of 1956. However, despite keeping up the high-level visits and keeping their commitment to NAM strong, bilateral ties between the two countries declined over time, especially as India’s links with the Gulf countries, where the Indian diaspora was based and most of its oil procured, grew stronger. President Hosni Mubarak visited India in 2008, followed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Egypt for the NAM summit in 2009 and President Mohammed Morsi’s visit in 2013.

After assuming office in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited President Sisi for the India-Africa summit in 2015 and a state visit in 2016. But he skipped attending the NAM summits in Venezuela and Azerbaijan in 2016 and 2019, the first Indian PM in office to do so, indicating a possible shift from the grouping. (In 2020, Mr. Modi did attend a virtual meeting of the NAM contact group summit hosted by Azerbaijan about the COVID-19 pandemic).

“I can tell you that the main principles, the founding principles of the non-aligned movement did not disappear. There might have been some global changes that pushed the NAM itself into the background, but it doesn’t change our positions,” the senior Egyptian diplomat engaged in preparations for the Sisi visit to India, who did not want to be identified, said, pointing out that the “South-South cooperation” and the G-77 that India and Egypt are actively involved in, were products of the NAM movement.

“With a population of almost 110 million, a location that straddles Africa and Asia, a standing Army that is the largest in the region, a capital that hosts the League of Arab States and a diplomatic presence that punches above its weight in global affairs, Egypt is a pivotal player,” Mr. Suri wrote in an ORF journal article this month, adding that Mr. Modi’s visit to Egypt was now “overdue” given that a planned trip in 2020 had to be put off due to the pandemic and Mr. Modi did not attend the CoP27 Climate Change conference in Sharm el-Sheikh in November 2022.

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