There was some hope that, with a new regime coming to power in Cairo, bilateral ties between India and Egypt would improve. But a recent visit of the Egyptian presidential delegation has proved that the glorious Nehru-Nasser era is over.
In 1975, when Hosni Mubarak was appointed as the Vice President of Egypt, no one expected that he would be an epoch-maker. But the assassination of President Anwar Sadat catapulted him to the helm in Egypt, and a new chapter of history was in the making.
Mr Mubarak served as President for the next 30 years years, until the status quo-defying ‘Arab Spring’ forced him out of office. In February 2011, he was stripped of all his power, but that does not in any way take away from the fact that Mr Mubarak will remain Egypt’s longest-serving ruler since Muhammad Ali Pasha.
In recent years, the changes imposed upon emerging economies through greater global economic integration have resulted in the development of a new consciousness among its citizens. Structural and social contradictions propelled tensions between the people’s rising aspirations and the Government’s failure to provide good governance.
The Arab Spring was essentially instigated by popular dissatisfaction with the Government while the lack of equity in income distribution may have been the other reason. Anyhow, when Egypt’s dictatorial regime fell, there was hope for a better future. That is the better part of the story.
As the movement for regime change in Egypt was essentially driven by a middle-class desperate for growth and development, it should have come as no surprise that Mr Mubarak’s successor Mohamed Morsi is an accomplished professional focussed on reviving the economy. It is in this context that Egypt’s relations with India must been seen.
After decades of being low-key, India-Egypt diplomatic and trade relations have now witnessed some degrees of improvement. However, it would be incorrect to term these recent developments as a ‘breakthrough’, as the recent visit of an Egyptian trade delegation led by President Morsi himself proves.
First, Mr Morsi’s India visit came as a follow-up to his Pakistan trip. Second, the Memorandum of Understan- dings signed during a joint meeting of the Indian Industrial Chambers were largely insignificant. Finally, nothing conclusive came out in India’s favour in the realm of diplomatic engagements even.
Against this backdrop, one can safely say that Egypt’s new regime doesn’t have a foreign policy that would distinguish itself from the one followed by its predecessor. There used to be a time when alongside Mahatma Gandhi, the Egyptian revolutionary leader Saad Zaghloul also shared the common goal of overthrowing colonial rule in their respective countries.
In later years, Egypt and India solidified their relationship through the Non-Aligned Movement essentially built on the co-operation between Nehru and Nasser.
In fact, through the crucial decades of the 1950s and the 1960s, Nehru offered Egypt India’s unrelenting support. It is no secret that during the Israel-Arab war, India was among the few nations which encouraged President Anwar Sadat to visit Jerusalam and sign a peace treaty with Israel. It is this treaty between the largest Arab country in the world and Israel that till dates holds the key to peace in West Asia.
But the fundamentals of the India-Egypt relation have changed with time. Moreover, by the time Mr Mubarak came to power, Egypt had already lost much of its liberal character. Of course, Mr Mubarak did his best to keep the Islamists on a tight leash, but after his ouster, the Muslim Brotherhood has come all out and captured political space in Egypt. Today, along with its Salafi allies, the Brothers rule from Cairo.
In India too, the situation did not remain stagnant. Nehru viewed the Cold War as yet another round of Western imperialism, wherein the rest of the world was expected to pick any one superpower and stick to it. But, Nehru’s non-alignment logic failed when he chose to join the Commonwealth of Nations.
In fact, the basic purpose of the Non-Aligned Movement was compromised at this time by none other than Nehru himself. Consequently, as the era of moralism in international relations passed, and realism knocked on many fronts, NAM quickly lost its way and along with it India and Egypt drifted apart as well.
As mentioned earlier, the relationship between India and Egypt has not changed drastically even though it has been many months now that Mr Morsi’s new regime has taken over in Cairo. Of course, this could quite possibly be because of the many dire challenges that the President faces at home. Indeed, Egypt is yet to recover from the impact of the Arab Spring and it remains to be seen if revolutionaries can deliver on their promises.
Mr Morsi especially will have to work hard to respond to the aspirations of his people. At a different time in history, India may have actively participated in Egypt’s development processes but given that there has been no visible warming up in bilateral ties, New Delhi will most probably just watch the developments from a distance.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Pioneer,on April08,2013)