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Egypt's Sisi kicks off visit to India. What can we expect?

The Indian government is rolling out the red carpet for the Egyptian president, but the trip comes at a critical time for relations between the two
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi before their meeting at the Hyderabad House in New Delhi, 25 January 2023 (Reuters)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi before their meeting at the Hyderabad House in New Delhi, 25 January 2023 (Reuters)

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has kicked off a three-day visit to India to shore up relations with a historic ally, as Cairo grapples with a severe economic crisis and looks east for financial relief.

The two sides are expected to sign a range of agreements that include boosting trade, agriculture, technology and defence, culminating in Sisi being welcomed as a guest of honour for India's 74th Republic Day celebrations on 26 January. 

'The visit is also particularly important as the geopolitical context has dramatically changed since the start of the conflict in Ukraine'

- Umberto Profazio, analyst 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday welcomed Sisi saying, "Your historic visit to India as chief guest for our Republic Day celebrations is a matter of immense happiness for all Indians."

Over the decades, the two countries have evolved significantly from the heady days when Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser and India's Jawaharlal Nehru got together with Yugoslavia's Josip Tito to establish the Non-Aligned Movement at the height of the Cold War in the 1950s. 

India is keen to deepen its relationship with Cairo, due to the cultural and political influence that Egypt, the most populous Arab country, has traditionally exerted in the region.

Egypt, a symbolically important voice in the Muslim world, has meanwhile largely avoided taking a critical stance on human rights issues in Indian-held Kashmir. 

According to the Indian media, 180 personnel from the Egyptian armed forces are expected to participate in Republic Day celebrations in a sign of closer military ties.

During Sisi's visit, a postage stamp commemorating relations between the two countries is also expected to be released.

Economic woes

Looming over the visit will be Egypt's economic crisis, including high inflation, a tumbling currency and an IMF bailout that is expected to cause significant social and political pain.

"Egypt's economic crisis is deep, and Cairo needs crucial reforms, already agreed with the IMF according to an economic model that many developing countries have always seen as superimposed according to western parameters," said Umberto Profazio, an associate fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. 

Trade between Cairo and New Delhi has fluctuated wildly over the years. Trade between the two in 2021 reached $5.8bn, with Egypt exporting $2.8bn to India and importing just over $3bn. 

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"Eventually, by offering its help, third parties like India could potentially provide some relief and offer assistance according to a different, non-Western model still in the making, but I'm not sure that they have the interest or enough resources in such a difficult time for the economy worldwide," Profazio told Middle East Eye. 

When Egypt, a country heavily dependent on food imports from Russia and Ukraine, placed a large order of wheat from India last summer in a bid to stabilise its domestic food supplies, New Delhi came to its aid. 

Despite India banning wheat exports following a global spike in prices, it made an exception for Egypt, supplying 61,000 tons of wheat.  

"The visit is also particularly important as the geopolitical context has dramatically changed since the start of the conflict in Ukraine, a factor that has accelerated previous geopolitical trends shifting the balance towards the East," said Profazio. 

While the two countries are expected to improve economic, diplomatic relations and potentially deepen their military ties, Profazio believes that Egypt will be especially keen to demonstrate "that it is able to strike a balance between different powers increasingly active in the region".

"Moving towards a multipolar world in which the Indo-Pacific will certainly play an important part, strengthening ties with India would be particularly important for MENA countries, also as a diversification strategy," he added.

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