Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s landmark visit to Cairo on June 24-25, 2023, marks the first by an Indian head of state since 1997, signifying a potential “watershed moment” or “turning point” for India-Egypt bilateral ties. This historic visit follows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s January visit to India, where he was the chief guest at India’s 74th Republic Day celebrations. This reciprocal visit, happening within six months, is a vital step towards cementing the bilateral relations that both nations had already elevated to a strategic level during el-Sisi’s January visit.
Prime Minister Modi’s three-day visit to the United States from June 21-23, 2023, which occurred at the express invitation of U.S. President Joe Biden, has garnered significant political and diplomatic international scrutiny. However, it is imperative not to underestimate the profound geopolitical significance of Modi’s subsequent visit to Egypt. This trip holds substantial strategic weight within the realm of Asian geopolitics.
India’s engagement with Egypt, one of Africa’s most influential nations, is crucial to its African policy. Egypt’s position is particularly significant as India’s outreach to Africa deepens. Since Prime Minister Modi came to power, India has opened nearly 20 new missions on the African continent, reflecting its intent to extend its diplomatic and economic influence.
This visit is also significant for India’s geopolitical ambitions. India seeks to consolidate its position as a voice of the Global South, especially as it gears up to host the G20 meeting in September. The visit to Egypt, one of the most populous countries in MENA, is seen as a further manifestation of these ambitions.
India is currently Egypt’s sixth-largest trading partner globally. However, the trade volume between the two countries is a modest $7.26 billion as of 2021-22, with the latest bilateral trade reaching $5.18 billion from April 2022 to January 2023. This figure pales compared to China’s bilateral trade with Egypt, which is $15 billion. This stark contrast underscores the need for India to bolster its economic ties with Egypt, strengthening its standing in the region and countering China’s growing influence.
The visit is expected to increase India’s investment in the North African country, potentially benefiting Egypt’s economy, which has been struggling. Egypt also hopes to join the BRICS economic bloc, and Modi is highly expected to announce India’s support for Egypt’s aspiration. Furthermore, Egypt’s geostrategic location, with 12% of global trade passing through the Suez Canal, is a significant player in international trade. India could potentially use Cairo as a springboard to access substantial markets in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, thus strengthening its position in the global economy.
In addition, by allying with Egypt, India could gain deeper access to the Arab world and Africa and potentially more profound access to Israel. Since Modi came to power, India has been actively trying to broaden its foreign policy outreach, with almost 20 new missions opened on the African continent alone. Egypt’s invitation to participate as a “guest country” after India took over the G20 presidency in December 2022 further solidifies the strengthening ties between the two countries.
Interestingly, Egypt’s ties with India also play a critical role in its foreign policy strategy. Over the years, Egypt has seen its influence in regional affairs, such as those concerning Palestine, Ethiopia, and other African countries, wane. Therefore, looking beyond the continent to build partnerships with growing global powers like India is a strategic move for Egypt. The recent high-level exchanges between the two countries mark a significant shift in Egypt’s foreign policy approach, indicating a deliberate effort to diversify its partnerships beyond the Western bloc.
Moreover, India and Egypt’s common history as founding members of the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) forms a unique basis for their relationship. The NAM, a global forum of 120 developing countries, was based on the belief in the non-alignment of significant power blocs. This shared history continues to influence the nations’ approach to foreign policy, strengthening their commitment to cooperation.
In conclusion Egypt has been looking to increase India’s investment, while India seeks more profound access to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region via Egypt. Egypt’s current financial hardships, initially caused by the pandemic and exacerbated by the Russia-Ukraine war, have made the country even more eager for investment from India. India, in return, sees Egypt as a gateway to major markets in Europe and Africa, providing India, in return, sees Egypt as a gateway to major markets in Europe and Africa, providing it with a strategic advantage in its global trade pursuits.
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