India recently celebrated her 74th Republic Day with grandeur. New Delhi has hosted foreign heads of state or governments for Republic Day celebrations since 1950. Unlike previous Republic Days in India, this was the first time an Egyptian President was invited as chief guest.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi was accorded a ceremonial welcome at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on the 25th of January, ahead of his 4-day state visit, commencing with the celebration of Republic Day. The highlight of this year's Republic Day was the 180-member military contingent from Egypt joining the ceremonial parade that marched on the erstwhile Raj Path, now known as the Kartavya Path, along with the contingents of the Indian Armed Forces.
The highest honour India can bestow in terms of the protocol is an invitation to be the chief guest during Republic Day celebrations. A lot goes into choosing a Chief Guest. Preparations begin nearly six months in advance of the event. The most pivotal consideration is the nature of the relationship shared between India and the country concerned, as it signifies the ultimate sign of friendship between India and the government of the invitee.
India's political, commercial, military, geo-strategic and economic interests are crucial drivers of the decision. The Ministry of External Affairs seeks to use the occasion to strengthen and bolster ties with the country of the invitee across all these aspects. President Abdeh Fatah al Sisi's visit marks the 5th visit of a head of state from the Arab and West-Asia region.
Now that we have seen how a Chief Guest is chosen for our Republic Day celebrations, the impending question is how and why Egypt fits across those parameters. To start with, India and Egypt have evolved from vibrant and ancient civilizations and have enjoyed a history of close linkages from ancient times. Mentions of Egypt under Ptolemy can be found in Ashoka's edicts and in much more recent times, India and Egypt, under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and President Gamal Abdel Nasser, were the founders of the Non-Aligned Movement in the Cold War era.
El-Sisi's visit to India is much more than just a ceremonial honour, as it signifies the
establishment of 75 years of diplomatic relations between India and Egypt. Additionally, his visit significantly boosts India's ties with Egypt. This powerful and influential Arab nation lies on the geo-politically sensitive crossroads of North African and Middle-Eastern, and West Asian countries, paving the way for new opportunities and advancing India's interests globally.
The bilateral relationship between India and Egypt had stagnated for over three decades during the reign of Hosni Mubarak. However, since the ascension to power by President El-Sisi in 2014, they have received a significant fillip.
The Egyptian economy has been in shambles since the Arab Spring Movement. Egypt eagerly looks forward to partnering with India across diverse sectors like agriculture, medicine, information technology and renewable energy to ensure course correction and India would love to access a new and emerging market to diversify its exports portfolio across the Arab and African Peninsula.
Most of the world's trade takes place via sea. Egypt is strategically located to connect the Mediterranean with the Red Sea through the Suez Canal, a mutually beneficial factor which India and Egypt would extensively like to leverage via the development of the Suez Canal Economic Zone.
Culturally, New Delhi views Sisi's Egypt as a moderate Islamic voice among Muslim-majority countries and a "friend" within the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The university of Al Azhar has a special significance to Sunni Islamic scholars from across the globe, and there have been several visits by Indian Sunni Muslim scholars.
On matters of terrorism, Sisi has been tough on Islamic religious extremism and, together with Modi, has voiced his concern on action necessary to end terrorism and crimes against humanity. With Sisi being Egypt's former military chief and defence minister, the two countries have also looked at strengthening their defence and security cooperation across multiple spheres.
The bonhomie and relationship that Sisi and Modi share are a sure indicator of rapid development and expansion of ties between the two countries in the very near future.