Tripti Nath/New Delhi
Former Deputy National security Adviser Pankaj Saran says Egyptians love India and there are many similarities between the two countries. He was speaking on the renewed efforts to bring the two countries together with the ongoing visit of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah-El-Sisi to India.
Saran, who has known Egypt from the time he was posted there for three years as a young diplomat, says that Egyptians and Indians are like-humored. he was speaking on his fortnightly show on Awaz-the Voice.
“They love India. I did not meet a single person who did not have friendly feelings toward India. They are very much like us and very affable. The food is excellent. It is a huge country but it is also overcrowded. There is a huge room for travel. They are very proud people - proud of their ancestry and heritage. Egypt is the capital of Arab music. The Egyptian museum in Cairo is one of the best in the world.’’
Saran, who is Convenor of NatStrat, Centre for Research on Strategic and Security Issues, said the relations between the two countries were not so warm for a long time because of internal instability in Egypt.
"There was internal instability in Egypt because of the events following the downfall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the internal turmoil, the coming in of President Morsi, then his ouster, there was a huge drop in the tourism earnings and exports of Egypt."
He said that President Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for 30 years, was "focused on fighting terrorism, fundamentalism, extremism.‘’So, they did not have time for India or the rest of Asia. They had an extremely close relationship with the United States, Europe, and in particular France. That was the Egyptian overall foreign policy posture. He pointed out that of late, Egypt seems to have decided to look eastward, more towards Asia, to China a little bit, and Russia and their outreach to India seems to be part of this decision to diversify their geopolitical options.’’
Replying to a question on the show, Saran said, "For a few years, Egypt had somewhat regressed in terms of its internal stability. Now with President Sisi having been there for this long and stability having come back and economy also beginning to show signs of revival and Egypt showing readiness to play its due role both regionally and globally, I think there is a good case for our Prime Minister to visit Egypt.’’
Saran went on to say that India and Egypt share many common interests. He emphasized that India and Egypt must have a moderate global voice where civilizations and religions are respected and there is no room for extremism and fundamentalism and we both join unequivocally the fight against terrorism. “ I think, here we are united.’’
He hailed the government’s decision to invite the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah-El-Sisi as Chief Guest at India’s Republic Day, as “very significant.’’
The Egyptian President is on a four-day (January 24-27) visit to India.
Ambassador Saran said that the fact that he is the first Egyptian leader to have been invited as Chief Guest on our Republic Day, speaks for itself. “During this visit, if we can revive the links that normally should have existed, that would be great. A strategic relationship with India is certainly possible.’’
Ambassador Saran said that if Egypt is freed from its immediate preoccupations, it can play a bigger role on the world stage. So can India.
He said that India has a huge Muslim population. “We have historical ties with the Arab world, with the Gulf region, with Iran. If we can work together with Egypt to reduce tensions in the Middle East, fight terrorism and fundamentalism, and create a world order where different civilizations are respected and can flourish, then we will be doing great service to the stability of the international order. The Middle East has seen a lot of violence and continues to see violence in Syria, Iraq, and Iran. We can work together to create this concert of civilizations where different religions, people, and civilizations can exist.’’
Talking of trade between the two countries, the NatStrat Convenor said that the trade is growing and is now seven billion dollars. “They are targeting trade of 12 billion dollars but the basket is not as big as should be. There is potential for enhancing trade. India has competencies that Egypt wants, for example in information technology, cyber security, industrial goods, car manufacturing, automobile parts, and light engineering goods but this depends on how fast the Egyptian economy grows. Egypt is very keen to import wheat from India. There are a lot of Indian investments in Egypt. We can use Egypt as a gateway to the rest of the region including to northern Africa, Europe, and the Arab world.’’
Replying to a question on the defense agreement signed between India and Egypt following Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s visit to Egypt in September 2022, Saran said that defense cooperation works only with mutual trust.
“The Prime Minister has set an objective for the government to expand defense exports. Egypt is a potential buyer of India’s Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, Trainer aircraft, and other world-class defense hardware and platforms including missiles. Now, Egypt wants to diversify its intake from different countries. So, there is potential to include localized production in Egypt of defense hardware. The role of our private sector in exporting items to Egypt is also significant. “
He said that the Egyptian authorities have consistently ensured since President Naser's time that Egypt remains a moderate Islamic country. ‘’The Al-Azhar university has been at the forefront of the fight against terrorism and fundamentalism well before the birth of ISIL and Al-Qaeda. The Al- Azhar university is the beacon for Islamic thought, preaching, and education.''
Asked how India and Egypt can work together in Africa, Ambassador Saran replied, “India has to balance the different African powers when it comes to our outreach to Africa.’’
To a question about how India can benefit from Egypt’s geographical position between Asia and Africa, Ambassador Saran said, “Egypt prides itself on its geographical location. When we look at the relationship between India and Egypt, the Suez Canal becomes very important as a transit route. It is extremely critical for our trading purposes. In addition, we can work much more on the cultural side-exchange of scholars with the Al-Azhar university, with the promotion of moderate Islam and promotion of multi-cultural traditions.’’
He said that India and Egypt can work together to voice the opinion of the global south
Saran observed that the rapid growth in Egypt’s population is one of the serious threats to its stability in terms of its food security, economic security, jobs and employment.