India's multi-faceted relations with Egypt, which was elevated to a ‘Strategic Partnership’ this year, will receive further impetus with the first state visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to this key Middle East nation, India's ambassador here has said.
Prime Minister Modi will be arriving here Saturday evening at the invitation of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. It will be the first bilateral visit by an Indian Prime Minister since 1997.
"We are very much looking forward to the visit of Prime Minister Modi to Cairo from 24th to 25th of June. The visit is a very historic occasion because the last bilateral visit by an Indian Prime Minister was as far back as 1997," Ajit Gupte, India's Ambassador to Egypt, said in an interview.
Mr. Modi will hold talks with El-Sisi on Sunday to discuss ways to give further impetus to the strategic partnership between the two major nations.
"I am excited to pay a state visit to a close and friendly country for the first time," Mr. Modi said in his departure statement in New Delhi on Tuesday before leaving for the United States on his maiden state visit.
"We had the pleasure of receiving President Sisi as the Chief Guest at our Republic Day celebrations this year," he noted.
These two visits in the span of a few months are "a reflection of our rapidly evolving partnership" with Egypt, which was elevated to a ‘Strategic Partnership’ during President Sisi’s visit, Mr. Modi said.
"I look forward to my discussions with President Sisi and senior members of the Egyptian Government to impart further momentum to our civilisational and multi-faceted partnership," he said.
Ambassador Gupte said that Egypt and India have had close defence ties.
"They have been participating for many years in joint exercises, training programmes, etc. But in the last two years, our defence cooperation has grown from strength to strength, and I'm happy to convey that 30 Indian defence delegations have visited Egypt in the last two years while from Egypt about seven defence delegations have gone to India," he said.
For the first time ever, there were joint exercises between the fighter aircraft of the air forces of India and Egypt.
"From Egypt, we were very happy to have received an Egyptian military Convention, which led the Republic Day Parade this year... We also had for the first time ever, joint exercises between our Special Forces in the desert in Rajasthan," he said.
On the strategic partnership between the two countries, Mr. Gupte said, "There is a great friendship between the people of both countries, but there was no special status to the relationship. So in the last few years, keeping in mind the rapidly growing trade, defence, and economic cooperation."
"Naturally, the term strategic partnership is only used in a very limited and restricted manner to signify countries with whom that country wants to have very special relations," he added.
On Egypt's invitation as a guest country for the G20, Mr. Gupte said, "We have invited nine guest countries and Egypt is one of them. Egypt is the most populous Arab country and is located in a very strategic place.
"It has a lot of influence in the Arab world. And Egypt is therefore a very significant regional player and it reflects the aspirations of the developing countries. So that is why we feel that Egypt's participation in the G 20 will be very useful," Mr. Gupte said.
During his stay here, the prime minister will also be visiting the Heliopolis War Memorial. This is a memorial which has been erected by the Commonwealth but it is a memorial for 3,799 Indian soldiers who laid down their lives in various battles in Egypt during the First World War. They were essentially defending Egypt from attacks from the Ottoman forces, he said.
He will also visit the 11th Century Al-Hakim mosque, restored with the help of the Dawoodi Bohra community.
The mosque was built during the Fatimid dynasty. The Bora community in India actually originated from the Fatima dynasty and they have renovated the mosque from the 1970s onwards.
"Also, there is a memorial for 600 Indian soldiers who laid down their lives in Yemen in the first world war so it is a very moving moment when Prime Minister will visit and he will be acknowledging the sacrifices made by Indians for international peace," Mr. Gupte added.
Mr. Modi will also meet members of the Indian community during his visit.
"Well, the Indian community in Egypt is quite small. It is about 3,600 and there are also students. But they are very eager to welcome the Prime Minister especially as this is the prime minister's first visit to Egypt. So we are organising a community event where the prime minister will get to meet them," Mr. Gupte added.