NEW DELHI: India and Egypt raised their bilateral ties to a strategic partnership on Wednesday as Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi began his visit to the largest country in south Asia.
El-Sisi arrived in India on a three-day trip on Tuesday evening for meetings with political and business leaders. He will also participate as the chief guest in celebrations of India’s Republic Day — a public holiday marking when the Indian constitution came into effect on Jan. 26, 1950.
In a joint presser on Wednesday, he and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the formation of their new partnership and plans for long-term cooperation.
“In today’s meetings, President Sisi and I decided to elevate our bilateral relationship into a strategic partnership,” Modi told reporters.
“We have decided that under the India and Egypt strategic partnership, we will develop a long-term infrastructure for cooperation in the field of politics, security, economics and science.”
El-Sisi invited Modi to visit Cairo to finalize the initiatives and while more details are expected to be announced then, the very announcement is already seen as significant.
“Elevation of the bilateral relationship to a strategic partnership signifies the importance the two sides attach (to it) especially in defense and security areas,” Anil Trigunayat, former diplomat and a distinguished fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation think tank in New Delhi, told Arab News.
“As the world undergoes unprecedented disorder and transformation, Egypt is India’s bridge to Africa ... To cater to a closer all-round engagement the two sides have created a robust institutional matrix.”
Navdeep Suri, former Indian ambassador to Egypt, told Arab News that El-Sisi’s visit was an important initiative for New Delhi.
El-Sisi is the first Egyptian president to be invited as guest of honor for the annual Republic Day parade, and according to Suri, the invitation is “imparting fresh momentum” to India’s ties with the largest country in the Arab world.
“With a population of almost 110 million, a location that straddles Africa and Asia, a standing army that is the largest in the region, a capital that hosts the League of Arab States, and a diplomatic presence that punches above its weight in global affairs, Egypt is a pivotal player,” Suri said.
“It is also a country with which India enjoyed an exceptionally close relationship in the first couple of decades after our independence.”
The Egyptian president is accompanied by five members of his government, including Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Communications and Information Technology Minister Amr Talaat.
His delegation signed five memorandums with Indian counterparts on culture, youth affairs, cybersecurity, information technology and public broadcasting.
El-Sisi’s second state visit to India since 2016 comes as Cairo tries to manage a dollar shortage and has been trying to draw more foreign investment and forge trade ties beyond its traditional alliances with the US and European powers.
During Wednesday’s press conference, Modi announced plans to nearly double bilateral trade to $12 billion in the next five years.
For India, economic engagement with Egypt has strategic importance and preparations should come from both sides, Suri said.
“While Egypt clearly needs to do more to market itself as an investment destination in India, it is also important for industry bodies in India to take a more proactive approach,” he added.
“For now, there are clear indications that India under Prime Minister Modi and Egypt under President El-Sisi may finally be moving toward achieving some of the potential in bilateral ties that has remained unfulfilled for the last four decades.”