Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

South Asia rings a bell

Egypt and India were off to a good start in the heyday of the Non-Aligned Movement. President Morsi should build on it, urges Gamal Nkrumah

Al-Ahram Weekly

President Mohamed Morsi cleverly sought and obtained the friendship of both South Asian regional rivals India and Pakistan. This lends greater credibility and meaningfulness to his latest South Asian tour. Although Morsi’s visit to South Asia follows in the best Non-Aligned Movement tradition of Gamal Abdel-Nasser and Jawaharal Nehru in the 1950s, the onus of Morsi’s current visit was decidedly on the present.

Not satisfied with the version of history books that glorify a golden age of Egyptian-Indian relations, Morsi noted that it will do no harm and may even do some good to focus on commercial and economic relations. Perhaps, it is worth noting here that trade between the countries has been on the upswing and currently stands at $5.5 billion, making India Egypt’s seventh largest trading partner. Morsi’s visit to India comes at a most opportune moment for Egypt. Improved commercial ties will benefit the democratic process precisely because it will increase the influence of entrepreneurs over the Egyptian political establishment currently in the making. It would also confirm the growing sense among Indian investors that in spite of political instability in Egypt the country has a bright economic future.

More focus on trade will help India and Egypt to move on from the past and into the present. Morsi is accompanied by several high-profile ministers and a large business delegation. India and Egypt are expected to sign several economic and trade agreements during Morsi’s visit. The Egyptian economy is under much strain and Morsi is anticipating that his visit will attract Indian investment into an Egyptian economy hit by two years of political turmoil that has kept investors away and led to a sharp drop in tourism.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is holding talks with Morsi aimed at strengthening bilateral ties and boosting trade and investment between the two countries. Morsi is also scheduled to meet top Indian political and business leaders during his three-day visit that began on Tuesday. Egypt’s economy is ailing and Morsi is looking to the emerging economies of Asia to facilitate an economic revival in the country. The visit of Morsi to India is designed to address some of the country’s economic difficulties. Whether India is in a position to help is another matter, but both Morsi and Manmohan Singh were putting on a brave face, especially at a time when Morsi’s Egypt has been having an uneasy relationship with Western powers. The lesson Egypt can draw from India is that the time has come to reward success and good performance by enterprising business people and punish failure and incompetence, a policy that would ensure that everyone has a stake in the economic uplift and well-being of Egypt. India is currently embarking on a bold experiment of cracking down on corruption by replacing subsidies with direct money transfers. Like Egypt, India has long implemented a system of subsidies on essential commodities such as kerosene, wheat, sugar and fertiliser. Egypt is watching closely how India will reimburse the recipients of the subsidies.

Economic progress will undoubtedly yield political dividends in post 25 January Revolution Egypt and India. If the aspirations of the poor in both countries are not met then they will face a political backlash that could, at least in the case of Egypt, further stunt economic growth. Like India, most of the subsidies intended to help the poorest of the poor in Egypt, appear to end up in the pockets of unscrupulous traders and shopkeepers. Both India and Egypt have emerged from an age of socialism, when the two countries were beacons of the Non-Aligned Movement. The impact of the gradual change from socialism to capitalism in both India and Egypt has been simultaneously dramatic and contentious. In both India and Egypt poverty alleviation is key to political prosperity.

India and Egypt aim to increase trade to $8 billion by 2015. India imports oil, natural gas, cotton and chemicals from Egypt, and exports frozen meat, rice, automotive parts, synthetic fibres, and light oils. “Both countries are keen to further deepen and diversify the growing bilateral engagement during Morsi’s visit,” a statement from India’s Ministry of External Affairs stated.

Morsi came to India with ambitions of Egypt joining BRICS, the group of the world’s largest and most dynamic economies — Brazil, Russia, India and China as well as South Africa. Whether or not India can guarantee the admission of Egypt into this exclusive club of nations is not clear. Morsi told the influential Indian daily The Hindu that he hoped Egypt could join BRICS. He reiterated his appeal at a banquet hosted in his honour by India’s President Pranab Mukherjee. “I am hoping BRICS would one day become E-BRICS, where E stands for Egypt,” Morsi said half in jest. “I hope E-BRICS would emerge when we start moving the economy.”

Indian politicians insist that the current political transition in Egypt coupled with the sweeping of the polls of the Islamists and the resultant Muslim Brotherhood-led government have not negatively impacted relations between Egypt and India. A key irritant in relations has been Egypt’s refusal to support India’s long-standing bid for a permanent seat on an expanded United Nations Security Council, and the Indians were hoping that Morsi would reconsider Cairo’s stance on this crucial concern of Delhi since it is bound to further improve its international stature.

It was not lost on Morsi’s Indian hosts, however, that he visited Pakistan before going on to India. In retrospect, nevertheless, Morsi’s stopover in Pakistan was simply that — a lightning one-day trip. Moreover, Morsi’s trip to Pakistan was the first bilateral visit by an Egyptian leader since Abdel-Nasser in the 1960s. Morsi who visited Pakistan on Monday held talks with his Pakistani counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and other leading Pakistani politicians. Morsi’s intriguing academician’s attire caused something of an uproar in the Egyptian press when it hit the headlines. Other pundits were perturbed that the Egyptian president was perceived as taking the “begging bowl” to equally poor countries. Officials from the two countries signed agreements to promote cooperation in shipping, investment, information technology and science and technology.

Be that as it may, it was to India that Egypt appealed for ground-breaking scientific cooperation. Navdeep Suri, India’s Ambassador to Egypt, revealed that Morsi’s visit to India would facilitate Egypt’s quest for putting a nano-satellite into orbit. “We talk often in general terms about space,” Suri said, “but, during this visit we are talking in specific terms about launching an Egyptian satellite”, Suri surmised.

add comment

  • follow us on