The coming together of Egypt and India in the strategic sphere reflects the changing contours in international relations.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Defence Minister Mohamed Zaki held a discussion on military and security matters with Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. Zaki and Singh signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in military cooperation. The talks between the defence ministers of the two countries focused on joint manufacturing, transfer and localization of technology. India has turned its attention to build a defence production sector, which involved the private sector and also foreign collaboration. But the emphasis on indigenising defence production and reducing dependence on Western armament imports. So, the talk of military cooperation between the two countries has a strong component of arms manufacture in India, and India’s keenness to share its manufacturing expertise with other countries. The possible tie-up then between India and Egypt in the arms manufacture opens a new door for India as well as for Egypt. The trend is that developing countries want to reduce their dependence on Western powers.
That Egypt and India should turn their attention to military and security cooperation is a new turn in the old relationship. In the 1950s and the 1960s, India under then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and then Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, were quite close. India supported Egypt in the 1956 Suez Crisis, and later Nasser and Nehru along with then Yugoslavia’s president Josep Broz Tito came together to form the Non-Aligned Movement in September, 1961 in Belgrade. The close relationship continued into the 1980s between India and Egypt. But this is the first time that the two countries are looking to a new frontier, military and security cooperation.
After the formation of the United Arab Emirates-United States-Israel-India group, which does not specifically include military and security aspect, the coming together of Egypt and India in the strategic sphere reflects the changing contours in international relations. Many of the developing countries like Egypt and India are looking beyond their respective regions in matters of defence and security. It is possible that gradually, there will be closer cooperation between Asian and African – Egypt belongs to North Africa as well as Middle East, and India is linked to south-east Asia including the Association of South-Eastern Countries (ASEAN) apart from links with the Gulf Arab states – countries, and Western countries could find themselves on the margins. The European Union (EU) countries are caught up in their regional problems, ranging from the war in Ukraine to the economic crisis caused by the war, and the United States is more concerned with the Indo-Pacific because the Americans are worried about the rise of China as a world power.
So, India moving into the Middle Eastern strategic sphere marks an important change. Of course, India has yet to become a major player as an arms manufacturer. India has started on this path only from 2014 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi came into power. His government has prioritised indigenous defence manufacture as a national goal. India will be able to sustain its arms manufacture if it is able to export its products to other friendly countries in Asia. Recently, India had signed an agreement with the Philippines to sell its Brahmo missiles for $375 million. India is then looking to new markets for its arms exports. It is interesting then that during their talks, Zaki and Singh looked at transfer of technology and localising the technology. It means that India would share its arms manufacturing expertise with Egypt and includes transfer of technology. It is only the beginning of a long journey. South Africa had tried to be arms exporter, but it has not been able to sustain it. India is building its base as an arms manufacturer on a broader base, and it would need partners like Egypt to enter into a fruitful partnership. Egypt would also be strengthening its own security and military base.