India and Egypt, two of the world’s oldest civilizations, have enjoyed a history of close contact from ancient times.Even prior to the Common Era, Ashoka’s edicts refer to his relations with Egypt under Ptolemy-II.
The relations between India and Egypt have had a general tone of cooperation and cordiality to them. Where the political dispensation in India towards Egypt has been almost unflinchingly favourable and supportive since its independence, it has been the political developments in Egypt that have had a major bearing on the trajectory of the bilateral relationship.
In modern times, Mahatma Gandhi and Saad Zaghloul shared common goals on the independence of their countries, a relationship that was to blossom into an exceptionally close friendship between Gamal Abdel Nasser and Jawaharlal Nehru, leading to a Friendship Treatybetween the two countries in 1955. The Non-Aligned Movement, led by Nehru and Nasser, was a natural concomitant of this relationship.
Their commitment to socialism also kept both the leaders and countries drawn towards each other. After the end of the Nehru-Nasser era, the relationship between the two countries lost much of its old sheen. Subsequent leadership in both the countries has acknowledged the importance of the other, but there has been a discernible absence of any meaningful efforts from both sides to further strengthen the relationship.
Throughout the political turmoil in Egypt, India has consistently expressed solidarity with the people of Egypt appealing to the leadership to see the winds of change and address the aspirations of the youth.
Trade Relations: Export-Import
Egypt has traditionally been one of India’s most important trading partners in the African continent. The India-Egypt Bilateral Trade Agreement has been in operation since March 1978 and is based on the Most Favoured Nation clause.
India is the sixth largest trading partner of Egypt – the second largest export destination and tenth largest import source for Egypt. India’s imports from Egypt were worth US$ 1.74 billion during FY 2014-15. It is significant to note that there has been diversification in the export basket of Egyptian products to India.
Indian exports to Egypt during FY 2014-15 have been recorded at US$ 3.02 billion. The top five Indian exports during FY 2014-15 were mineral fuels, meat, vehicles and parts, cotton yarn and organic chemicals. While the top five Indian imports were crude petroleum, rock phosphate, inorganic chemicals, cotton and fruits.
Technical, Scientific cooperation and assistance has been a major part of the bilateral relationship.
In the field of scientific cooperation, ICAR and the Agricultural Research Center of the Ministry of Agriculture & Land of Egypt signed a MoU for cooperation in the field of agricultural research in March 1998. An Agreement on cooperation in science and technology was also signed in October 1995. Cooperation in agriculture and Science & Technology is implemented through biennial Executive Programmes.
Suez Canal upgrade
The advantage of the Suez is that ships save as much as 10 nautical days at sea instead of sailing around Africa, and is today the fastest link between Asia and Europe accounting for almost 7% of global seaborne trade. It is a claim by economists that the project will not only expand (double) the capacity of the tonnage passing through the Suez Canal but more than double the annual revenue to $13.5 billion by 2023. For a country like India which does not have overland access to markets of Europe and North Africa, the Suez Canal is its lifeline.
Egypt is also giving shape to the Suez Canal Area Development Project which would involve development of five new seaports in the three provinces surrounding the canal, a new industrial zone west of the Gulf of Suez, exclusive economic zones of around 460 sq.km around the waterway, huge fish farms, seven new tunnels to Sinai, a new Ismailia city, and a technology valley at Ismailia. India is looking to enhance its investment profile in these opportunities.
Pan Africa e-Network Project
The Pan Africa e-Network Project, one of the flagship programmes of the Indian Government to strengthen ties with Africa, has been operational through an E-learning Centre since July 2009 at Alexandria University.
The Tele-medicine Centre under the Project also became operational in November 2009 at the Centre for Women’s Health and Development in Alexandria. The Alexandria University will soon be ready to serve as regional centre for the entire North Africa region both for e-learning and tele-medicine.
The Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture (MACIC) was set up in Cairo in 1992 to promote cultural cooperation between the two countries, through the implementation of the Cultural Exchange Programme (CEP).
The Centre, in addition to popularising Indian culture through Hindi, Urdu, Yoga and meditation classes, occasional dance classes, seminars, exhibitions and also organizes cultural festivals.
The third edition of the ‘India by the Nile’ (IBN) annual India cultural held in Egypt from 29 March to 17 April 2015.
The three-week long festival included Manipuri folk dance, crafts exhibition and symposium, wellbeing experience to highlight the importance of yoga and Ayurveda, Bollywood Musical, Indian fusion band, street food festival,and a number of other events conceived and organised on the principle of public private partnership.
In its outreach activities, the Indian Cultural Centre also organizes India Day(s) in other governorates and universities.
Yoga has gained popularity in Egypt with 14 schools in Cairo, besides centres in other cities. The International Day of Yoga was celebrated with enthusiasm. There is also a growing interest in traditional medicines.
The strong ties between India and Egypt are evident from the affection towards India amongst the population. Three streets in Cairo are named after Indian leaders namely, Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru and Dr. Zakir Hussein. There are two busts Mahatma Gandhi – one in Cairo at the Supreme Council of Culture and the other one in Alexandria at the Bibliotheca Alexandria.
Other areas of collaboration
Both countries seek each other as important in establishing peace and stability in their region.
The two leaders highlighted the leading role of India and Egypt in the maintenance of international peace and security, being among the ten largest troop and police contributing countries in United Nations missions.
The increasing dominance of IS in Syria and Middle-Eastern countries is now laying its root in Egypt also which is a great threat to Egyptian denizens.
Latest developments in West Asia and North Africa region, the spread of extremism and radicalization and the scourge of terrorism are the gravest threat to international security and peace.
There is an urgent need for cessation of hostilities in Syria and expressed concern over humanitarian crisis in the country and India-Egypt share a common ideology on the issue.
India-Egypt supports the people and government of Iraq in their efforts to overcome the existing crisis to uphold Iraq’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Egypt is also an important source of crude and oil for India.
The magnitude of the Zohr gas find raises again the prospect of export of Egyptian LNG, and with the recent expansion of the Suez Canal – even to the Asian market competing with Qatari and Iranian gas exports. The discovery of Zohr proclaims the East Mediterranean as the new frontier in oil and gas production.
Latest Visit of Egyptian President to India on 1-3 September, 2016
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi said Egypt and India will build a “robust defence and security cooperation.”
will work on evacuation of people from areas hit by natural disasters or conflicts.
India and Egypt will upgrade economic and trade ties, increase mutual visits, intensify counter terror cooperation, and work on renewable energy.
An Agreement on maritime transport which was described by Mr. Modi as an “important enabler” for increased trade and commerce.
agreed to further our defence and security engagement aimed at expanding defence trade, training and capacity building, greater information and operational exchanges to combat terrorism and cooperation on emerging challenges of cyber security.
Both leaders noted the importance of cultural exchange and agreed there should be more cultural and academic exchanges to promote closer understanding and linkages, especially among the youth.
The two leaders agreed to expand cooperation in the field of space utilising India’s expertise in launching satellites and other advances in space technology.
The two leaders agreed that a special and enlarged “India by the Nile Festival” would be held in 2017 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of India’s independence. They also welcomed the proposal to have the inaugural “Egypt by the Ganga Festival” in 2017.
Other potential areas of collaboration
India-Egypt dynamics has all the components of a very strong bilateral engagement. It is time to take the next leap forward.
Egypt has traditionally been one of India’s most important trading partners, and currently we are the second largest destination for Egypt’s exports. However, this can be increased significantly. We have yet to fully tap sectors like textiles, apparel machinery, automotive components, chemicals and consumer goods.
Manufacturing, too, offers some great prospects. In positioning India as a manufacturing and R&D hub under the ‘Make in India’ initiative, some serious exploration is required of the biggest strength of Egypt, which is also its key business driver — the country’s geo-strategic location. A manufacturing base in Egypt would allow our industry to access markets in Europe, Africa and West Asia.
Infrastructure is another area of opportunity. India’s experience in developing economic corridors, metro projects, housing and urban development would be valuable to Indian players interested in participating at the Suez Canal Economic Zone and other similar projects.
The Digital India Programme could be useful in Egypt’s development needs such as e-government solutions, new banking platforms, information management and low cost IT parks among others.
There are also emerging areas such as solar energy where India and Egypt come across as natural partners since the two countries already have an MoU on Renewable Energy Cooperation. There is tremendous scope for enhancement of such cooperation.
India could also tap Egypt with its huge gas resources as a top priority source of fertilisers like urea, and make it an important partner in its quest for food security.
Further, the two countries can work together on sectors such as SME and pharma as well.
Nurturing of entrepreneurial habits is critical today to fuel the economic engine of any economy and Egypt is no exception. The ‘Startup India’ movement to boost entrepreneurship at the grassroot levels paves the way for collaboration between India and Egypt.
Educators and capacity building institutions from both sides could collaborate to find mechanisms to foster entrepreneurship and instil competitiveness.
For India, better relations with Egypt not only present an opportunity to build on historical ties, but also to forge an enduring partnership to meet emerging global challenges of energy security, terrorism and climate change.
With the passage of time India has emerged as an important player in the world. With a stable democracy, growing economy and development in science and technology it offers a window of several opportunities for cooperation. Egypt is emerging from the turmoil of Arab Spring while simultaneously facing a number of security and economic challenges. The current leadership in both countries has shown deep interest in reviving the bilateral ties; thus both must find issues of common concern to cooperate on, which would give a much needed thrust to the relationship