Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1311, (8 - 21 September 2016)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1311, (8 - 21 September 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Hands across the Himalayas

Al-Ahram Weekly explores the repercussions of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s Asian tour

Hands across the Himalayas
Hands across the Himalayas

Sometimes rather odd political gatherings can be the most revealing. While United States President Barack Obama was not received at the airport by Chinese President Xi Jinping before this week’s meeting of the G20 group of nations in Hangzhou, China, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi was received by the Chinese president and was accorded red carpet treatment.

The choice of Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province in eastern China, as the venue for the G20 Summit is also revealing. This was also the first time Egypt, which is not a G20 member, has been represented at such an august affair. “I am confident that the results of the upcoming summit will meet the aspirations of our people and the international community as a whole,” Al-Sisi said on his way to the meeting.

He hailed China’s “great and creative efforts” in leading the G20 meeting this year. But before China, there was India, where Al-Sisi arrived last week for his second visit after a first visit in 2015 when he attended the Third India-Africa Forum Summit, a meeting of the representatives of 40 African nations.

New vistas have opened for Egypt in Asia, but they need to be seen in the proper perspective. Egypt is not quite the only gateway to Africa for Asian giants such as India and China, but there are plenty of opportunities for joint ventures between Egypt and the two largest economies in Asia.

The baleful consequences of western military hubris in Africa and the Middle East are also not hard to see. Egypt, India and China have a weary understanding of western folly in this regard, well understanding that western military action in Africa and the Middle East has been disastrous. Egypt appreciates India’s and China’s scepticism regarding western military might.

Al-Sisi arrived in India to rekindle diplomatic relations and renew contacts between the two countries that date from the age of the national liberation struggles against European colonialism. Those were the days when the anti-British Egyptian leader Saad Zaghloul and the Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi saw common goals for their respective movements against British colonialism.

Al-Sisi is an amiable African and Arab leader as far as his Asian hosts are concerned, and his usual equanimity and poise are much appreciated. A constant theme is the way in which Egypt could act as a partner to the Asian countries in reaching out to other African, Arab and Middle Eastern nations.

The change in Cairo’s policy with regard to Africa reflects the certainty, shared with China and India, that Africa is the continent of the future. Past challenges have served to enhance cooperation between Egypt and Asia, and this new development merges with domestic demands in Egypt and to a lesser degree in Beijing and New Delhi.

Indian Prime Minister Nadrendra Modi discussed matters of bilateral interest with Al-Sisi and tackled issues of common concern. “President Al-Sisi and I are of one view that growing radicalisation, increasing violence and the spread of terror are real threats not just to our two countries, but also to nations and communities across the region,” Modi noted.

This is the first presidential visit specifically to India, not in the context of African-Indian summits, since the visit of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Al-Sisi arrived on a three-day visit at the invitation of Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, marking his second visit to the country since he was sworn into office in June 2014.

While in China, Al-Sisi was not able to forget Asia’s second-largest economy of Japan, and on Sunday he met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the G20 Summit for his third such meeting in less than two years.

After a trip to Kazakhstan, he travelled to Japan where he agreed a number of deals worth around $18 billion in energy and other sectors. “The developing countries are concerned over the growth of unemployment. Due to scientific and technical progress, more and more people are being dismissed,” noted Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev during Al-Sisi’s visit in words that will have resonated with the Egyptian president.  

Back in China, it was noteworthy that Al-Sisi was greeted by the Chinese president. Both Beijing and New Delhi have taken up strictly secularist stances, and both, like Egypt, have taken a firm stand against terrorism.

Gamal Nkrumah

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi travelled to India on 1 September. He was received at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. During the visit Al-Sisi signed a maritime transportation agreement with Prime Minister Modi. Al-Sisi also discussed developments in the Middle East, including efforts to combat terrorism.

Al-Sisi briefed his interlocutors on the government’s economic reform programme. He underscored Egypt’s commitment to entrenching democracy and upholding the rule of law and outlined the investment opportunities Egypt offers Indian investors, noting that there are also many prospects for trilateral cooperation in Africa.   

During the meeting both parties addressed ways to promote cooperation across a range of areas, from security to culture. Al-Sisi also stressed the importance to Egypt of reinvigorating tourism.

Following the meeting a joint press conference was held with the Indian prime minister during which Al-Sisi said the visit was a reflection of the depth of relations between Egypt and India.

Both Al-Sisi and Modi underlined they had discussed coordination to counter terrorism and agreed on the need for concerted efforts by the international community to confront the global threat posed by extremism.

Modi confirmed that many Indians are interested in visiting Egypt and there are great prospects for cooperation in this field. “India is keen on developing cultural exchange and activities and welcomed the launching of a new department to teach Indian languages at Aim Shams University,” he said.

The two leaders also discussed regional and international issues of mutual concern, including the crises afflicting several states in the Middle East. The two sides agreed to develop an integrated plan to upgrade economic and trade cooperation, increase investments and promote the exchange of expertise, particularly in the areas of renewable energy, information and communications and space technology.

Al-Sisi also met with Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. They discussed the political and economic measures Egypt has adopted to kick start development, and Al-Sisi welcomed the involvement of Indian companies in Egypt’s infrastructure and other national development projects.

Swaraj described Al-Sisi’s visit as a significant step to further improve bilateral relations. “Egypt plays a key role in Africa and the Arab world and India is keen on strengthening cooperation in all fields, particularly trade and investment,” said Swaraj.

She stressed the importance of convening a joint committee as soon as possible to strengthen cooperation frameworks. “We are looking forward to enhancing cultural activities and people-to-people interaction to enhance relations,” added Swaraj.

In New Delhi Al-Sisi also met with US Secretary of State John Kerry. The meeting, which was attended by Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri, tackled a number of issues, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict among them.

“Egypt is looking forward to advancing its decades-long strategic relationship with the US and to enhance cooperation to fulfill the common interests of both countries,” said Al-Sisi. He highlighted the importance of consultations and coordination between the two countries over a range of regional issues.

Kerry said the US values its partnership with Egypt and looked forward to strengthening bilateral cooperation. Washington, he added, is fully committed to supporting stability in Egypt and continuing consultations on regional issues. The two discussed recent developments in Syria and Libya and international efforts to forge a political solution to ongoing crises.

From India Al-Sisi headed to China for the two-day G20 Summit which opened on 4 September. Al-Sisi was attending the summit at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The G20 agenda included investment, infrastructure, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and battling against corruption. The first session of the summit focused on ways to coordinate policy to better foster global economic growth.

During the course of the summit Al-Sisi met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande, Russian President Vladimir Putin, South African President Jacob Zuma, Deputy Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Prince Mohamed bin Salman and UN Secretary General Ban Ki- Moon.

With the Chinese president Al-Sisi discussed ways to promote scientific cooperation, particularly in the pharmaceutical, communications and information and agricultural fields, vocational training and SMEs. President Jinping underlined China’s support for Egyptian efforts to promote stability and push forward a comprehensive development process.

The two also reviewed progress in the implementation of already agreed joint projects. They discussed ways to encourage more Egyptian exports to the Chinese market, increase Chinese investment in Egypt, most notably in the Suez Canal Development Zone, and foster greater cooperation between financial institutions in both countries.

Both sides agreed on the need to continue coordination and consultation within international organisations and strengthen counter-terrorism cooperation.

Al-Sisi also met with IMF director Christine Lagarde. The meeting was attended by the Governor of the Central Bank of Egypt and the ministers of foreign affairs, trade and industry and finance.

They discussed the preliminary agreement with the IMF to support Egypt’s economic reform programme which will soon be presented to the IMF board for endorsement. Lagarde lauded the Egyptian government’s efforts to develop the economy by introducing structural reforms to reduce unemployment and public debt. “The IMF strongly supports Egypt’s economic reforms,” she said.

Al-Sisi underscored Egypt’s commitment to striking a balance between growth and financial stability and protecting those on limited incomes. He stressed that the state will continue to strengthen social security networks that protect those most in need..

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