Thursday, February 3, 2011

India has high stakes in a stable Egypt

In some respects, India has the same close entanglement and investment with Egypt and Mubarak as the United States does, although it comes from a different direction, both geographically and strategically.

Washington views Egypt as a military and diplomatic partner, which it got to sue for peace with ally Israel in the teeth of Arab opposition and paved way for decades of relative concord in that part of the world.

India-Egypt ties pre-date this and are rooted in the exceptionally close relationship between Nehru and Nasser, founding members and buddies of the Non-Aligned Movement. It survived the US ingress into the region and even New Delhi's dalliance with Israel, although with noticeable less ardor.

Since the 1980s, there have been four Prime Ministerial visits from India to Egypt: Rajiv Gandhi (1985); P V Narasimha Rao (1995); I K Gujral (1997); and Manmohan Singh (2009). Mubarak visited India thrice, in 1982 (bilateral), 1983 (for NAM), and most recently in 2008, when New Delhi finally handed over the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International
Understanding that had been conferred on him as far back as 1995.

Mubarak's 2008 visit was mainly driven by massive Indian investments in Egypt, which overcame the mushy sentimentality that hitherto characterized the ties. As with rest of the world, Indian movies are popular in Egypt.

In the past decade though, it's India Inc that has stepped up to the crease: Indian companies have made a mark in Egypt, raising India's profile that was otherwise largely cultural. Egypt is the beachhead for Indian push into North Africa and Maghreb, with Oberoi, which owns two hotels and runs cruises, leading the way in the hospitality sector.

Wipro and Satyam Computers set up global delivery centers in Cairo; Kirloskar assembled diesel engines and irrigation pumpsets in the country; Ranbaxy found an Egyptian subsidiary for manufacturing pharmaceuticals; Dabur, Marico and Asian Paints have operations here; Bajaj Auto dominated the three-wheeler market; Tata Motors, M&M, Ashok Leyland and Maruti have all motored in.

More recently, Essar, Reliance, and the Tata group are among those planning investments in Egypt worth an estimated $20 billion. Add to this, nearly 1,00,000 Indians vacation in Egypt every year.

Clearly, India has much to wish for in Egypt's stability.

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