Constituent policy

Jaishankar’s visit to Egypt reflects the foresight of India’s ‘Look West’ policy

Today, the Minister of External Affairs, S Jaishankar, started his official visit to Egypt. Although this is the Minister’s first visit to the country, it is the latest in a series of high-profile visits to the country. Some time ago, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh paid an official visit to Egypt.

The Indo-Egyptian partnership has gained momentum in recent years. Although both are ancient countries, bustling modern republics and regional powers, the partnership has only now begun to visibly grow. This is part of the new energy that has been injected into India’s ‘Look West’ policy by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Jaishankar’s visit to Egypt will focus on promoting bilateral trade, commerce and investment. According to India’s External Affairs Ministry, Egypt’s two-way trade hit an all-time high of $7.26 billion in the financial year 2021-22. Indian investment in Egypt exceeds US$3.15 billion. More than 50 Indian companies are actively present in Egypt in various sectors such as manufacturing, chemicals, energy, infrastructure, retail, etc.

Egypt is one of the partnerships sought by India as part of its influence in the Middle East. Today, more than ever, the “Look West” policy has acquired greater importance. Since Prime Minister Modi came to power, India’s relations with countries in West Asia and North Africa have steadily grown.

From transactional, relationships have evolved into strategic links between partners. With huge geopolitical shifts underway, India has it all in the region.

The first is the shrinking American footprint. With the United States, beginning with the Obama administration, increasingly focused on the Indo-Pacific, West Asia has had to start fending for itself. Whether it is the Arab Spring, the rise of political Islam, the war in Syria or the war in Yemen, the countries of the region have had no choice but to make difficult decisions. and chart their own path.

While the United States remains the main defense provider and partner for countries in the region, even security provider countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have realized that the United States can no longer be the network security provider. They began to diversify their strategic partnerships.

Russia, with its hydrocarbon resources, has become a major partner of the GCC countries, with the emergence of OPEC-plus. His intervention in Syria, where he helped degrade and decimate the Islamic State, also earned him major defense contracts and partnerships in the region. It has become the main defense supplier to countries like Egypt and Algeria, while those like Saudi Arabia have entered into new defense collaborations with Russia. But Russia is now focused on Ukraine and is unlikely to play a major role in the region in the near future beyond energy cooperation.

At the same time, the traditional foot soldier of the Gulf countries – Pakistan – which had often provided security and military services to the Gulf countries now seemed unable to continue in such functions, as it did not want to be drawn into regional rivalries such as that between Iran and the predominantly Sunni Gulf states, or that between Qatar on one side and Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt on the other.

Meanwhile, not only Iran, a traditional rival of Sunni powers since the Islamic Revolution, but regional heavyweights like Turkey have also begun to assert themselves in the region, sparking another round of regional geopolitical rivalries.

The search for strategic partnerships paved the way for the Abraham Accords, through which the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan normalized their relations with Israel, which benefited India enormously as it did not have not to continue its balancing act vis-à-vis its relationship with Israel and with the Arab countries.

India has traditional ties with the region. Analysts in the region stress that for the counties in the region, the preservation of stability and the nation-state is the priority. India fits perfectly into its cooperation with the region in this framework. From providing cheap labor to investing in the region, India’s relationship with the West Asia and North Africa region, which it considers its extended neighborhood , have many facets. And the focus is increasingly on the defense sector, where collective defense cooperation should be strengthened by expanding military-to-military engagements, launching joint exercises and joint defense production.

Last month, Jaishankar made his first official visit to Riyadh where he said “collaboration is the promise of shared growth, prosperity, stability, security and development”. .

While ties are rooted in energy security and India’s labor pool, with India’s growing geopolitical and economic clout, it offers an exciting partnership for the kingdom which, as the largest economy in the region with a sovereign wealth fund of 400 billion dollars, seeks to chart a more autonomous path. progress and assert itself more autonomously in the region, while undertaking major reforms to modernize and transform the kingdom into a regional economic hub.

The Saudi Vision 2030 plan, for example, identifies India as one of eight countries chosen for a strategic partnership, and an Indo-Saudi Strategic Partnership Council has already been established. Defense, security and counter-terrorism cooperation has grown exponentially between India and Saudi Arabia, as well as of course with the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain.

The expansion of this collaboration now includes Egypt. A major component of this cooperation will be defense collaboration. India is already collaborating closely with countries like Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates in the field of defence, including through the regular organization of joint military exercises, regular high-level exchanges at the level of service chiefs and military education exchanges. In 2019, India installed a pavilion at the Dubai Air Show for the first time. The first ever joint tactical air exercise of the Indian Air Force and Egyptian Air Force, ‘Desert Warrior’, was held in October 2021. Indian Air Chief Marshal, VR Chaudhari, traveled to Egypt from November 28 to December 2, 2021 and attended the ‘Egypt Air Power Symposium’. India has offered to set up production facilities for manufacturing light combat aircraft (LCA) as well as helicopters, with Cairo focusing on local production and technology transfer. During Rajnath Singh’s visit to Egypt, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the two countries.

Egypt ranks first in the Arab world and 13th in the world in terms of military personnel and hosts the largest military base in the region. It has also successfully fought the Islamist insurgency and political Islam on its territory. It is close to Saudi Arabia, the economic engine of the region. The establishment of a common defense manufacturing hub there will give India access to other countries in the region for defense sales, which will significantly boost the Indian defense industry, as well as India’s role in the region.

The Ukrainian conflict has shown the limits of Western power, and more and more countries in the South will assert their strategic autonomy. In this, the positions of countries like India, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates converge. Their cooperation is the only way forward.

(Aditi Bhaduri is a columnist specializing in Eurasian geopolitics. Opinions expressed are personal and exclusive to India Narrative)

Also read: India takes another step to rekindle ties with regional powerhouse Egypt