The decision to upgrade India-Egypt ties to a ‘strategic partnership’ is historic at many levels because both nations were once close friends bound together ideologically as neutral countries during Cold War era

New Delhi: Last week, in an unprecedented move, India brought Egypt under its tight strategic embrace, audaciously putting defence and security as the main pillar of the bilateral relationship and thereby upgrading the ties to a ‘strategic partnership’.

The decision was historic at many levels keeping in mind the fact that both nations were once close friends bound together ideologically with the idea of being neutral countries during the Cold War era.

Egypt President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi became the first premier of that country to ever become the chief guest of Republic Day celebrations. Although symbolic, the move gave out a strong signal to the world that both countries are now charting a roadmap together that will put India firmly in the scheme of things as far as the Middle East is concerned, official sources said.

Egypt has emerged as a major hub of counterterrorism and works closely with the US in this area. Egypt is a member of the US-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, which was founded in September 2014.

Under President Sisi, Egypt has sought to create a major sphere of influence around the region between the Eastern Mediterranean and the Red Sea, and also modernised the Navy. In January 2020, Egypt opened a new military base – Berenice – on the Red Sea and also plans to showcase its military power in the Red Sea.

According to sources, this is the reason why India has sought to bring Egypt closer in its fight against terrorism, particularly cross-border terrorism while also keeping defence and security ties at the centre.

“As part of President Sisi’s strategy to revitalize Egyptian power in its immediate vicinity, it has maintained long-standing U.S.-Egyptian security ties while strengthening defense relationships with other actors. During Sisi’s presidency, Egypt has diversified its military-to-military and trade relationships away from the United States to include closer relations with Russia, China, and European nations such as France, Italy, and Germany,” noted a research by the US’ Congressional Research Service (CRS).

During President Sisi’s meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week, both sides have decided to establish a joint working group on counterterrorism aimed at exchanging information and best practices.

According to the joint statement issued after the meeting, “Prime Minister Modi and President Sisi expressed concern over the spread of terrorism across the world and agreed that it poses one of the most serious security threats to humanity. Both leaders condemned the use of terrorism as a foreign policy tool.”

It also said: “They called for 'zero tolerance' for terrorism and for all those who encourage, support and finance terrorism or provide sanctuaries to terrorist and terror groups- whatever their motivation may be. They emphasized the need for concerted and coordinated action by the international community, with the objective of eradicating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations including cross-border terrorism.”

Cairo Wants New Delhi In Middle East As A Balance Against China

According to experts, New Delhi’s decision to closely ally with Cairo is also aimed at countering China, which is increasing its footprint in the Middle East.

Navdeep Suri, Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation (ORF), notes in his report: “Egypt’s prevailing economic vulnerability is bound to increase the clout that China enjoys over a pivotal country. For India, a deeper economic engagement with Egypt therefore acquires an additional strategic imperative.”

He adds: “For now, there are clear indications that India under Prime Minister Modi and Egypt under President Sisi may finally be moving towards achieving some of the potential in bilateral ties that has remained unfulfilled for the last four decades.”

According to Suri, who is also former Ambassador of India to Egypt, Cairo is also keen on buying India’s Tejas fighter jets and Dhruv light attack helicopters.

Egypt is keen on inviting investments from India, especially in the development of the Suez Canal Economic Zone (SCZONE), which will give New Delhi strategic leverage in the region that connects the Mediterranean with the Red Sea.

Here also, China has invested in a big way and has brought the canal under the larger gambit of Beijing’s Belt and Road and Maritime Silk Road projects, highlighted Suri.

Mohammed Soliman, Director (Strategic Technologies and Cyber Security Program), at Washington-based Middle East Institute, told ABP Live: “Cairo’s pivot to Delhi reflects India’s standing and rising role in West Asia, and regional powers such as Egypt are looking into India as a strategic partner of choice. The Suez Canal makes Cairo’s definition of the Middle East more expansive and includes India.”

Soliman said: “Cairo’s definition of the Middle East is slowly but gradually expanding to include India, ushering in the emergence of West Asia, a region that encompasses Egypt, India, and the nations in between. This is why the Modi-Sisi summit was important.”

He added that the two leaders' decision to take their bilateral relations to the level of a strategic partnership provided “a road map for a new chapter of Egypt-India relations as well as for India's alignment with moderate Arab states, which I describe as an Indo-Abrahamic transregional order”.

He also said: “Defence and security were prominent aspects of the Egypt-India summit, as they are among the important pillars of any strategic alignment between allies and partners. In this new era of great power competition, Cairo and Delhi want to provide strategic clarity on the objectives of India-Egypt bilateral relations.”

Soliman added: “In my view, Egypt and India should consider establishing an agile mini-lateral format with France to address transnational challenges affecting the transoceanic space from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indo-Pacific.”