Saturday,24 February, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1313, (29 september - 5 October 2016)
Saturday,24 February, 2018
Issue 1313, (29 september - 5 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Indispensable India 

Why should Indo-Egyptian cultrulal relations be studied afresh? In Egypt, Indian films and soap operas are on everybody’s lips, surmises Gamal Nkrumah

Indispensable India 
Indispensable India 
Al-Ahram Weekly

Sometimes rather odd cultural gatherings can be among the most revealing. A round-table seminar on “Cultural bonds in India-Egypt relations” at the Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture (MACIC), Embassy of India, Cairo – one of the most active operating cultural centres in Egypt, located in the leafy Cairene island suburb of Zamalek – actuated and animated a lively discussion on the irrevocable and binding cultural relations between Egypt and India that hark back to the days of ancient Egypt and the Indus Valley civilisation of South Asia.

“Cultural bonds in India-Egypt relations” explored new avenues to expand collaboration and the means to reach out to new audiences, with the onus on Egyptian youth. Politics count.

“The State Visit of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to India in September 2016 was a landmark in our bilateral relations. This followed the two meetings between PM Narendra Modi and President Abdel-Fattah Sisi in New York and New Delhi in 2015, during which they developed a strong rapport based on the shared interest to provide development and security. The leaders recognised that this was a golden opportunity to transform our bilateral partnership to realise its full potential. The definition of the three pillars of our partnership, political-security cooperation, economic and scientific engagement, and cultural and people-to-people exchanges, provided the framework to take our relations to new heights,” Ambassador Sanjay Bhattacharyya extrapolated.

Home is where the heartache is, and Egypt and India have long suffered the shackles of British colonialism. Since the days of the Non-Aligned Movement and the friendship between the two legendary leaders of Egypt and India respectively, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Jawaharlal Nehru, there was an unmistakable empathy and a binding rapport. But, contemporary Egypt and India need not dwell intensely on nostalgia. 

“Our relations, based on civilizational exchanges and close cooperation in the decades after we attained independence, faced new challenges and opportunities in the 21st century.  The State Visit laid the foundation for a forward looking partnership based on the three pillars.  The richness of Egypt’s civilization, its central role in combatting the growth of terrorism and violence, its stable social institutions and moderate ideology and the lon term potential of its economy were recognized and there was conviction that Egypt would continue to play its duge role in regional affairs and would take the lead in initiatives to bring peace and stability,” India’s Ambassador to Egypt expounded.

“India’s diplomatic mission in Egypt is the largest in Africa and the Middle East. And we have our reasons for choosing Egypt as the hub of our diplomatic activities in the region,” Ambassador Sanjay Bhattacharyya told Al-Ahram Weekly in an exclusive interview.

India is a federation of 29 states and two “territories”. And it is preposterous to assume that this sprawling sub-continent is divided into Muslim versus Hindu protagonists. Yes, caste politics is rife. Lower-caste Hindus and Muslims vie for affirmative action privileges. But this is a matter that concerns India and is no business of Egypt’s, a country of 100 million people that is roughly the population of an average Indian state. The lesson that Egypt is obliged to learn from India is that it takes legislation to enact lasting reforms, and perhaps more crucially, making democratic laws requires compromise. “Contemporary Egypt to my mind is similar to the India of the 1990s,” Ambassador Sanjay Bhattacharyya says.

“Cultural bonds in India-Egypt relations” demonstrated that Egypt and India must strive to find common ground. Both nations know that on the world stage the middle ground is the only place they can get the pace of development to accelerate. “Cultural bonds in India-Egypt relations was an eye opener in more ways than one,” Professor Nadia Jereidini told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Easier said than written. Egypt and India have marked anti-terrorism as their policy priority. Culture has a crucial role to play in combatting terrorism. “The MACIC round table is a monthly seminar series on issues of common interest to stimulate discussion and share best practices between youth, academia, civil society and media,” Ambassador Sanjay Bhattacharyya stressed. He shared with the participants and an unprecedented turnout of India lovers and cultural tzars that “Cultural bonds provided a strong foundation for advancing India-Egypt partnership” and it was necessary to focus on exchanges highlighting the diversity of society, establish collaborative ventures and reach out to new audiences. He said the next India by the Nile festival will be larger than before and would seek close cooperation of Egyptian artists in the array of events celebrating India@70.

In both Egypt and India there is a tendency to play down the outdated politics of communal and sectarian division. Four eminent speakers shared their views on different aspects of cultural relations at the round table including.Hisham Gabr, Director of Art and Music at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, who recalled the common threads in the classical tradition of both countries and welcomed more Indian participation, especially after the great success of the Kathakali dance troupe and Santoor ensemble which had enthralled audiences at the Summer Festival. Professor Nadia Jereidini, Vice President of the Egypt-India Friendship Association, discussed the history of Indian films in Egypt and said Indian film stars like Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan have a huge fan following in Egypt and they would love to see their idols visit them. “The popularity of Bollywood and Indian blockbusters in Egypt is a sign that India’s charm intrigues Egyptians. Cultural differences apart, there is an innate fondness for Indian culture among Egyptians and the numbers of India lovers in Egypt is fast growing,” Professor Jeredini says.  

The interesting truism is that the governments of Egypt and India did not necessarily initiate any of this penchant of Egyptians for India and Indian culture. Jayanti Maydeo, Executive Committee Member of Indian Community Association in Egypt, recounted how Indian festivals like Holi and Diwali had already been adopted by Egyptians with thousands playing the festival of colours or dancing to garba beats. She noted that themes of celebration and basic values like the triumph of good over evil had universal appeal. The predilection for Indian cultural outpourings in Egypt has been mealy-mouthed, and simultaneously both genuine and sincere.

“Cultural bonds in India-Egypt relations” also attracted artistic celebrities and cultural luminaries such as noted sculptor Abdel Salaam Eid, designer of the Suez Memorial, who offered to organise workshops for artists in the plastic arts, and Mona Zaki, strategic consultant, who highlighted the importance of collaborating in soft power projection to strengthen dialogue between two friendly countries.

“The State Visit laid the foundation for a forward looking partnership based on the three pillars: the richness of Egypt’s civilisation, its central role in combatting the growth of terrorism and violence, its stable social institutions and moderate ideology and the long-term potential of its economy were recognised and there was conviction that Egypt would continue to play its due role in regional affairs and would take the lead in initiatives to bring peace and stabile relations, based on civilisational exchanges and close cooperation in the decades after we attained independence, faced new challenges,” Ambassador Sanjay Bhattacharyya surmised.

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