It was winter when President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came as a guest for the Republic Day to stress the warmth of the relationship. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will arrive in Cairo in the summer heat to continue to fire Indo-Egypt relations. The visit is historic as he is the first Indian Prime Minister to make a trip to the country since 1997.
The visit comes on the heels of a very charged US visit, where the deliverables were from military cooperation to space. The Modi visit to Egypt may not have big ticket deliverables but will be high on optics as well as symbolism. It is very much a reach out to the Muslim world. The big photo opportunity for the trip will be Modi’s visit to the 1,000-year-old Imam al-Hakim bi Amr Allah Mosque, a very important site for the Dawoodi Bohra community.
This is not the first time that Modi has chosen to send a message to the world—and the Muslim international community to quell any doubts—by going to a mosque. In 2015, he kicked off his UAE tour with a visit to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. This time the symbolism is significant as Modi—as is norm on his international trips—has to put an end to the perception that the government is anti-minority. It is very much an image that Modi wants to distance himself from. While the American administration was at pains to emphasize India’s pluralism and democratic credentials—even in the face of Senator Bernie Sander’s asking President Joe Biden to raise it, a sentiment former President Barack Obama also flagged--the murmurs continued.
It was the only question that he was posed in America by a reporter, who asked about the steps taken by the Indian government to protect the rights of Muslims and other minorities and uphold free speech. “We are a democracy...India and America both have democracy in our DNA,’’ he said. “Democracy is in our spirit and we live it and it's written in our Constitution...So no question of discrimination on the grounds of caste, creed or religion arises. That is why, India believes in 'Sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas, sabka prayaas and walks ahead with it..," he said.
However, the visit goes beyond just a picture reach out. India and Egypt have recently elevated their partnership as a 'Strategic Partnership' covering political, security, defence, energy and economic aspects. An important country in West Asia, India is hoping to keep in focus the strong relationship with the region. Especially, as last summer turned out to be a rather hot one after controversial remarks made by former BJP leader Nupur Sharma. Egypt was one of the few countries that chose not to make a statement. Again, a signal that Egypt has India's back on this.
One of the issues that come up between the two leaders will be the Ukraine war. Egypt is reeling from an economic crisis, which has been aggravated by the conflict. Food prices have gone up by 61.8 per cent year on year, with poultry, pasta, dairy and red meat prices increasing faster than others. Egypt will be hoping that India will provide some relief of money till the government negotiate with the IMF for a loan. Last year, India lifted the restriction of export on wheat and sent 61,000 tonnes of wheat to Egypt.
The other major issue on the card likely to be discussed will be terrorism. “We are in agreement that terrorism is the biggest threat to humanity,’’ said Modi in a joint statement in January. “Both countries also agree that strong steps are required to end cross-border terrorism, and for that we have to convince the international community through joint efforts.”