Ambassador Ajit Gupte a senior diplomat from Indian Foreign Service (IFS) is currently serving as the Indian Ambassador to Egypt. We are presently witnessing a deepening of Indo-Egyptian ties as was evident from the recent visit of Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to New Delhi as the Chief Guest of 74th Republic Day of India. In an exclusive interview with Manish Rai, Editor, ViewsAround (VA) at the Indian Embassy in the Egyptian capital Cairo, Ambassador Gupte spoke on various aspects of Indo-Egyptian trade, security, military and strategic relations.
Question – If you could please throw some light on the historical and civilizational links between India and Egypt?
Answer – India and Egypt are among the oldest civilizations in the world and have had maritime contacts for over 4,000 years. It has been said that some of the essential oils used in the process of mummification were imported from India by the ancient Egyptians several thousand years ago. During the recent visit of President Sisi to India in Jan 2023, Prime Minister Modi said that the excavations at the ancient port of Lothal (which is located in the Indian state of Gujarat) showed evidence of trade relations between India and Egypt, which are at least 4,000 years old.
In the 20th century, the leaders of our freedom struggle Mahatma Gandhi and Saad Zaghloul inspired each other. Egypt was one of the first countries with whom India established diplomatic relations after gaining independence. Our diplomatic relations were established within just three days of India getting independence in 1947. There was a special personal friendship between President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, which is fondly remembered in Egypt even today. India, Egypt and Yugoslavia worked closely together to establish Non Aligned Movement in 1961. NAM inspired many newly-independent developing countries in Asia and Africa to adopt an independent stand during the Cold War.
Question – Recently on India’s Republic Day parade President Sisi was invited as the Chief Guest. How did this visit contribute to India-Egypt bilateral relations?
Answer – The recent visit of President Sisi to India was particularly important since it was the first time in history when an Egyptian President was invited as the Chief Guest for our Republic Day parade. President Sisi was indeed extremely satisfied with the warmth and hospitality he received during his visit. Both leaders agreed to expand cooperation in many areas such as defence, security, trade, commerce & investments, pharmaceuticals & health, agriculture, education and IT. Most importantly, it was decided to upgrade the Indo-Egyptian ties to a ‘Strategic Partnership’; keeping in mind the multifaceted cooperation India and Egypt enjoy.
Question – Recently in New Delhi the third session of the Egypt-India joint working group on counter-terrorism took place. First of all, I will like to ask why India and Egypt are cooperating on counter-terrorism. Are there any common areas of concern? Secondly, how India and Egypt are cooperating?
Answer – As we are aware, India has been deeply affected by cross-border terrorism for almost four decades now. Egypt has also suffered from the problem of terrorism for nearly three decades. Successive Egyptian leaders have tried their best to control terrorism to varying degrees of success. However, the current regime under President Sisi has been extremely successful in combating and reducing terrorism. India and Egypt have witnessed the same root causes of terrorism in their respective countries like- radical ideology, propaganda, and misinformation. Hence, there is a great need to augment our cooperation. The Joint Working Group on counter-terrorism provides a suitable platform for this engagement and it met recently for the 3rd time in Feb 2023. We have agreed that terrorism in all forms should be stopped, action should be taken against the UN-designated state sponsors of terrorism and the perpetrators of terror attacks should be brought to justice. Both countries are working on strategies to combat the spread of misinformation by terror outfits to promote their cause.
Question – India is one of the largest investors in Egypt. In which areas Indian companies are investing or planning to invest?
Answer – Yes, India has been among the most important investors in Egypt. To put that in numbers, approximately 50 Indian companies have invested around US$ 3.20 billion in the last 15 to 20 years in Egypt. The main areas of investments include chemicals, petro-chemicals, garments/textiles, pharma and automobiles. Further US$ 800 million of investment is in pipeline in various sectors. Recently, three leading Indian renewable energy companies have signed MoUs worth US$ 18 billion to develop green hydrogen in Egypt. This could add a new dimension to our economic relations with Egypt.
Question – Indian Foreign Secretary recently mentioned that India and Egypt are looking for deepening military cooperation can you please elucidate on this?
Answer – Both countries have a long history of defense cooperation. Back in the 1960’s we jointly tried to develop a fighter aircraft. This program progressed to the extent that we were able to develop a prototype. In the last two years, joint exercises have taken place between the fighter aircrafts of our Air Forces in Oct 2021 and June-July 2022. In addition to this, nine Indian naval warships have visited Egypt since June 2021. We are looking into the possibility of co-production of defense equipment. It’s also a very positive sign that Egypt is now looking at India as a long-term defense partner.
Egypt is one of my favorite countries (one that I still haven’t had the privilege to visit but seeing the Pyramids and Sphinx is definitely very high on my wish list). I’ve found all Egyptians I ever met very warm and affectionate people at least the ones I met in Europe and some other countries. Some Egyptians even take the pain to speak broken Hindi. They’re a rich and vibrant culture, and extremely hospitable.
I have very similar experiences with Iranians as well. They’re also very warm and affectionate to Indians.
Except for Pakistan, most Muslim countries are friends of India. Even Turkey, which is ruled by a dictator slanted towards Pakistan, unfortunately, isn’t all that bad for Indians. I’ve met many common Turks — while there is a bit of communication barrier with them (unlike Egyptians – Egypt was a British colony like India so English is widely understood there.), the common Turks are also warm and hospitable to Indians.