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.
In modern times, Mahatma Gandhi and the Egyptian revolutionary Saad Zaghloul shared a common goal on independence from British colonial rule, and the two nations made a joint announcement of the establishment of diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level three days after India became free.
The two countries are celebrating the 75th anniversary of establishing diplomatic ties.
A Friendship Treatywas signed between Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1955.
Relationship since 2014: The year 2015 has seen more intense political cooperation between the two countries with regular interactions at the leadership and Ministerial levels.
PM Shri Narendra Modi met President Sisi on the sidelines of UNGA, New York in September 2015.
Their talks focussed on counter-terrorism, deepening economic engagement, and regional issues.
The ties have been on an upswing in the recent past and both delegations supported reform of the UNSecurity Council, where Egypt was a non-permanent member during 2016-17 and India had a similar stint during 2021-22.
The President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, was the chief guest at the 74th Republic Day parade (2023).
During this year’s meeting, both India and Egypt agreed to elevate the bilateral relationship to a “strategic partnership”.
India and Egypt signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for three years to facilitate content exchange, capacity building, and co-productions between Prasar Bharati and the National Media Authority of Egypt.
Areas of Cooperation
The joint announcement of establishment of diplomatic relations at Ambassadorial level was made in 1947.
Both countries have cooperated closely in multilateral fora and were the founding members of Non-Aligned Movement.
With regard to covid pandemic, Egypt dispatched three planes with medical supplies to India in 2021.
In addition, Embassy of India also signed an agreement to procure 300,000 doses of REMDESEVIR from M/s EVA Pharma, Egypt
India-LAS Engagement: The 3rd Meeting of the Arab-India Cooperation Forum took place virtually in 2021.
The discussions focused on issues of mutual concern on both regional and international levels, collaboration in the field of diagnostics and treatment to fight the Covid-19 pandemic and increasing cooperation in the fields of economy, trade and investment, energy and environment, agriculture and food security, science and technology, media, human resource development etc.
The year 2022 is of particular significance since it marks the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relation between India and Egypt.
Operation Sankalp, which saw the Indian Navy escort oil tankers through the Strait of Hormuz as tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran escalated, was a good example of India’s mandate in the region moving up from anti-piracy operations to overt protection of national assets and interests.
The India-Egypt Bilateral Trade Agreement has been in operation since March 1978 and is based on the Most Favoured Nation clause and the bilateral trade has increased more than five times in last ten years.
The bilateral trade in 2018-19 reached US$ 4.55 billion. Despite Pandemic, the volume of trade declined only marginally to US $ 4.5 billion in 2019-20 and to US $ 4.15 billion in 2020-21.
Bilateral trade between India and Egypt achieved a record high of 7.26 billion dollars in 2021-22.
The trade was fairly balanced, with 3.74 billion Indian exports to Egypt and 3.52 billion imports from Egypt to India.
The grants-in-aid projects include: Pan Africa Tele-medicine and Tele-education project in Alexandria University, Solar electrification project in Agaween village and Vocational Training Centre for textile technology in Shoubra, Cairo, which have been completed.
Technical cooperation and assistance have been a major part of our bilateral relationship. Since 2000, over 1250 Egyptian officials have benefited from ITEC and other programs like ICCR and IAFS scholarships.
In the field of scientific cooperation, ICAR and the Agricultural Research Centre of Egypt are working in the field of agricultural research.
Science and Technology
‘Science & Technology’ cooperation is implemented through biennial Executive Programmes and Scientific Cooperation Programme between CSIR (India) and NRC (Egypt).
The first Joint Working Group on Cyber Issues was held in New Delhi in 2016.
The 4th Joint Committee Meeting on S&T was held in New Delhi in 2017.
The 2nd ISRO-NARSS JWG was held in Cairo in 2017.
The India-Egypt Workshops on Agriculture-Biotechnology and Nanotechnology were held in Shillong in 2018 and in Mumbai in 2019 respectively.
An IT Centre in Al Azhar University, CEIT, is also operational since February 2019.
There was close cooperation between the Air Forces, with efforts at jointly developing a fighter aircraft in 1960s.
The 8th Joint Defence Committee (JDC) was held in New Delhi in 2018. The 9th JDC was held in Cairo from in 2019
IAF pilots had also trained Egyptian pilots from 1960s until 1984.
Most of the current defence cooperation is determined by Joint Defence Committee (JDC) activities.
Egypt participated in the Multinational Training Exercise for friendly African countries held at Pune in 2019. The first ever IAF-EAF Joint Tactical Air Exercise, Dessert Warrior, was held in 2021.
The first ever joint exercise between the special forces of the Indian Army and the Egyptian Army named “Exercise Cyclone-I” is in progress at Jaisalmer in Rajasthan since January 2023.
The Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture (MACIC) has been promoting cultural cooperation between the two countries, through regular activities such as Hindi, Urdu and Yoga classes; seminars; film shows; exhibitions and participation in local cultural activities.
‘Sawt-ul-Hind’, Embassy’s flagship Arabic magazine for the past six decades, reached a milestone in July 2017 with the publishing of its 500th edition, depicting the strong bond and vibrant cultural exchanges between the two countries.
At present, the Indian community in Egypt numbers at around 3200, most of whom are concentrated in Cairo.
India and Egypt are “worried about the spread of terrorism happening around the world” and they are “unanimous” that terrorism is the “most serious security threat” to humanity.
Misuse of cyberspace to spread extremist ideologies and radicalisation is a growing menace.
Egypt’s economy has been in shambles over the past few years. It was battered by the collapse of tourism during the pandemic, and the Russia-Ukraine war has impacted its supply of food — almost 80% of Egypt’s grain came from these two countries — and hit its foreign exchange reserves.
Despite restrictions on the export of wheat, India had last year allowed shipments of 61,500 metric tonnes to Egypt.
But the country needs more.
China’s bilateral trade with Egypt is currently at $15 billion, double that of India’s $7.26 billion in 2021-22.
Sisi has been wooing Chinese investments, and has travelled to China as many as seven times in the last eight years.
Egypt, the most populous country in West Asia, occupies a crucial geo-strategic location — 12% of global trade passes through the Suez Canal and is a key player in the region.
It is a major market for India and can act as a gateway to both Europe and Africa. However, it also has bilateral trade pacts with important West Asian and African nations which is a cause of concern for India.
India-Egypt ties in their current stage will require time and honing to lead to more concrete strategic posture.
The opening with defence exercises is also a good platform to further develop access to fulfil Egypt’s defence requirements. While the entire saga of India wanting to sell its HAL Tejas jets to Egypt was an over-ambitious and unrealistic endeavour, promoting defence along with agriculture, Information Technology, amongst others as areas of cooperation can benefit Cairo as it looks to diversify its economic footprint.
Concerted action is necessary to end “cross-border terrorism” and they will have to together alert the international community.
More than six decades ago, the two countries founded the NAM. They now have an opportunity to forge a new path ahead, not just for their strategic and economic interests, but as the voice of the Global South.