As India increases its political and military ties with Cairo, New Delhi has extended an invitation to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to be the chief guest at Republic Day on January 26.
The invitation to El Sisi, who has been the Egyptian president since 2014, is being seen as India’s outreach to both Africa and the Arab world. Egypt, which is the Arab world’s most populous country, is also 2nd largest economy in Africa. This year, both countries celebrated the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations.
Rolling out the red carpet for President Sisi means Delhi-Cairo ties will see special attention in the coming few months and years. Both the Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh visited the country earlier this year. During their visits, both the ministers met the Egyptian President, with Jaishankar handing out a “personal message” of PM Modi to him.
The visit of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to Cairo in September was seen as a significant gesture, as both sides stepped up military engagements. During the visit, he held bilateral talks with his Egyptian counterpart General Mohamed Zaki and an MoU in Defense sector was signed as both sides agreed to focus on joint training, defence coproduction and maintenance of equipment. Egypt is looking to buy India’s Tejas fighter jets.
The country was also invited to the India-Africa Defence Dialogue and IOR Defence Ministers’ Conclave that took place on the sidelines of the 12th DefExpo in Gandhinagar, Gujarat in October. There has been one of close cooperation between Indian and Egyptian Air Forces, with efforts at jointly developing a fighter aircraft in the 1960s. IAF pilots also trained Egyptian pilots from the 1960s until 1984. Egypt regularly provides transit facilities to IAF and Indian Navy aircraft ferrying to/ from Russia, Europe and the USA.
President Sisi paid an official visit to India in September 2016. Prime Minister Modi met Sisi during the Third India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi in October 2015. That same year, both leaders had also met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
The North African country is also among the nine countries invited by India for the G20 summit that will be hosted in New Delhi in September 2023. This is the second time that the Modi government has invited a leader from an African nation for Republic Day. India has been keen to increase ties with Africa, and next year could see the India-Africa summit as well, the last of which took place in 2015.
Since 2014, when PM Modi took charge, India has extended invites to US President Barack Obama (2015), French President Francois Hollande (2016), UAE’s Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan (2017), all the ASEAN Leaders (2018), South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa (2019), Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro (2020).
The last two years—2021, and 2022— had no republic day guests because of the Covid pandemic. India was keen to invite all the Central Asian leaders this year, but it could not materialise due to Covid. In 2021, UK’s then PM Boris Johnson was invited as the guest, but at that time, Britain was grappling with the Covid crisis. This year’s republic day will be presided over by new Indian President Draupadi Murmu.
Egypt has never been invited to India’s Republic Day so far since the first Republic Day celebration started in 1950. India has invited the maximum number of Republic Day guests from Asian countries (36), followed by Europe (24), Africa (11), South Africa (6), North America (2) and Oceania (1).
Egypt has traditionally been one of India’s most important trading partners in the African continent. Despite the 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. Amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict, India sent a wheat consignment to the country.
Before the conflict, Egypt used to import almost 80 per cent of its wheat supplies from Russia and Ukraine. In April this year, the Egyptian Cabinet announced the inclusion of India in the list of accredited countries which can supply wheat to Egypt, thus ending a long pending non-tariff barrier.