The historic significance of the Egypt-India partnership

Bilateral relations are strong today, after having been forged in the Cold War

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) shakes hands with President of the Arab Republic of Egypt Abdel Fattah El Sisi. AFP
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On Thursday, Egypt and India's strong ties will be on display for the world to see, as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosts Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi in New Delhi for India’s Republic Day and to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Cairo and Delhi.

While modern-day issues will be discussed, the visit is of significant historic importance, too. Both powers' strong bilateral relations can be traced back to the Cold War. The era was characterised by a fundamental irony: while no fighting broke out between its two main rivals − the US and the USSR − there has probably never been a more dangerous time in history, with both powers possessing apocalyptic nuclear arsenals.

But during that time the US and USSR were not the only two powers shaping the world. Post-colonial states, many of them newly independent, were starting to see the value of building ties between each other, wielding real influence in the process.

In 1946, Jawaharlal Nehru, a former prime minister of India and an important figure in the emerging Non-Aligned Movement summed up the prevailing sentiment among them: "We propose as far as possible to keep away from the power politics of groups aligned against one another, which have led in the past to world wars and which may again lead to disasters to even vaster scale."

(Original Caption) 9/29/60-Yugoslavia- 5 top neutralist countries called upon Pres. Dwight Eisenhower & Premier Nikita Khrushcev to resume their personal diplomacy with a face to face conference. The move resulted from a "neutralist summit conference" late sept. 29. Shown here at the end of the conference are (L to R) PM Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Pres. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Pres. Gamal Abdel Nasser of United Arab Rep., Pres. Sukarno of Indonesia, & Pres. Tito of Yugoslavia.

In the 1950s he met the leader of one of the largest non-aligned states, Egypt. Concrete measures such as military co-operation were discussed, but the meeting was most significant for its symbolism. When Gamal Abdel Nasser met Mr Nehru, it was not a normal meeting of national leaders, rather of two 20th-century titans that were emerging with the independence of their countries and the growing self-confidence of developing non-western states.

That confidence can be seen in the 21st century, too. India is the second-largest country in the world by population and Egypt remains a hugely important player in the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

It is the Egyptian leader's third visit to the country, and by far the most significant. This one will be a historic celebration of the strength of the relationship, which improves lives in many quarters. The volume of bilateral trade between Egypt and India rose from $4.55 billion in 2018-19 to $7.26 billion in 2021-22. That makes India the third largest export market for Egypt.

Security is also an important field of co-operation. The trip comes as India is increasingly working with Egypt and Gulf allies to deal with maritime tensions. Naval and air units from both states have conducted joint war games. Negotiations for Cairo's purchase of Indian Tejas light combat aircraft have been underway for months. The two also share intelligence to fight terrorism.

These and the many other avenues of co-operation can be read as two rising and geopolitically significant regions coming together to build stability in a chaotic world order, one in which old Cold War rivalries appear to be re-emerging.

Neither Egypt nor India takes this stabilising bilateral relationship for granted, and nor should the world. When its emblematic post-colonial leaders met in 1950s, they travelled to Yugoslavia, another key non-aligned state. That country no longer exists, after the chaos of the collapse of the USSR. Terrible violence ensued, and there are fears that the Balkans are about to destabilise once again.

As this important trip approaches, there are plenty of facts from history and today that show why all countries interested in global stability should celebrate this partnership, and hope that it thrives for another 75 years and beyond.

Published: January 24, 2023, 3:00 AM