Why India chose Egypt’s Abdel Fattah El-Sisi as chief guest for Republic Day

After a two-year hiatus because of the pandemic, India is hosting a Republic Day guest. This time, sharing the stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to witness the parade at New Delhi’s Kartavya Path, earlier known as the Rajpath, will be Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. This is the first time India has invited a leader from the Arab country.

Also read: Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as Republic Day chief guest: India, Egypt make up for lost time, seek strategic convergence

El-Sisi’s India visit

The Egyptian president arrived in New Delhi for a three-day visit on Tuesday and has a packed schedule.

He was accorded a ceremonial welcome at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Wednesday, which was attended by President Droupadi Murmu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other leaders. Murmu hosted a State Banquet in his honour in the evening.

Sisi held a meeting and delegation-level talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on bilateral, regional and global issues. “I am thankful to PM Modi for such a grand welcome. During our discussions, we talked about trade and investment and how to further expand our cooperation in import and export,” Sisi told the media.

PM Modi spoke about old ties with Egypt. “India and Egypt are among the oldest civilisations in the world. There has been a continuous relationship between us for many thousands of years. More than 4,000 years ago, trade with Egypt used to take place through the Lothal Port of Gujarat,” he said, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

“We have decided that under the India-Egypt Strategic Partnership, we will develop a long-term framework for more comprehensive cooperation in the political, security, economic and scientific fields,” Modi said.

The two nations have also decided to “strengthen defence cooperation” and “increase the exchange of counter-terrorism information and intelligence”. Modi added that India has invited Egypt as a special guest during the G-20 presidency, which is a reflection of a “special friendship” between the two countries.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar also met Sisi and there was an interaction with the business community.

On Thursday, Sisi will witness India’s celebrated R-Day parade, which includes a march past by defence forces personnel, flypasts, display of military assets, and tableaux of different states.

PM Modi and President Droupadi Murmu at the ceremonial reception of Egypt’s El-Sisi, in New Delhi on 25 January. PIB

The significance of India’s ties with Egypt

India’s choice of Republic Day guest is a reflection of its foreign policy. From business interests to geopolitics, everything plays a part in choosing the guest, which starts six months before the occasion. The Ministry of External Affairs looks at nations keeping in political, economic, and commercial relations, the neighbourhood, military cooperation and prominence in regional groupings and the strong emotional attachment with the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) countries.

This year, Sisi was invited amid India’s ongoing attempts to boost ties with Egypt. The president has visited India twice before since he took charge in June 2014 – for the Third India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi in October 2015 and on a bilateral visit in 2016. He will return later for the G-20 summit.

PM Modi is looking to elevate ties between India and Egypt. New Delhi has invited Egypt as a special guest during the G-20 presidency. PIB

Strengthening relations with the Arab country is part of India’s focus towards the Global South, which includes countries in Asia, Africa and South America. It’s an effort to revive the principles of non-alignment which have come into the spotlight after the Russia-Ukrraine war.

“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 and former ambassador to India, told The Hindu.

Also read: El-Sisi’s visit to India represents a revival of Delhi-Cairo axis: Mohammed Soliman

Former India ambassador to Egpyt, Navdeep Suri, told DD India that the ties between the two nations have not lived up to their potential in the recent past. But added that he was delighted to see that India has “picked up the baton” and “is trying to give a “fresh momentum” to the relationship with a country, which is “pivotal in its geopolitical location as it straddles Asia and Africa”.

According to Suri, Sisi’s visit is a defining moment. It will give a boost not only to languishing trade and investment ties which have started to pick up a bit last year but also on matters of defence and security.

The changing dynamic under Modi

Under PM Modi, the diplomatic ties between India and Egypt have strengthened. Last year, Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh visited Cairo.

The two countries are exploring opportunities in new and renewable energy, trade and investment, education, tourism and connectivity and have agreed to promote independent thinking in a polarised world. Egypt is keen on establishing a premium institution like an IIT on its soil.

During Singh’s visit, the focus was to expand bilateral defence agreements. Egypt has shown interest in some of the made-in-India technologies like Light Combat Aircraft Tejas, the Akash missile system, and DRDO’s Smart Anti-Airfield Weapon (SAAW).

Graphic: Pranay Bhardwaj

Amid wheat shortage caused by the Russia-Ukraine war and restrictions on exports of the grain in India, the Modi-led government decided to make an exception for Egypt. The world’s largest wheat importer, it was badly hit after Russia’s invasion. But New Delhi provided it much-needed relief.

Bilateral trade between India and Egypt has expanded rapidly in 2021-22, amounting to $7.26 billion registering a 75 per cent increase compared to 2020-21, according to media reports.

Modi and Sisi were regularly engaging with each other during the COVID pandemic. Egypt sent three planes with medical supplies to India in May 2021 as India was hit by a second wave. EVA Pharma provided 300,000 doses of remdesivir to India.

After Sisi took over, Sushma Swaraj, the-then external affairs minister, visited Cairo in August 2015. Modi and Sisi met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York a month later. In October 2015, the PM and then-president Pranab Mukherjee met the Egyptian leader during the India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said that El-Sisi’s visit added new vigour to the India-Egypt bilateral engagement and our time-tested friendship. Image courtesy: @DrSJaishankar/Twitter

The old ties

In 1961, India and Egypt co-founded the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) with Yugoslavia, Indonesia and Ghana. Former Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Egypt’s president Gamal Abdel Nasser shared a good rapport; they even signed a Friendship Treaty between the two countries. Cairo appreciated the support from New Delhi during the Suez Canal crisis of 1956.

But over the years, the bilateral ties between the two nations weakened, as India grew closer to the Gulf countries. But now, PM Modi and Sisi are looking to take the diplomatic friendship to the next level.

With inputs from agencies

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