This is the very first time that Egypt’s president will be the chief guest. A 149-strong Egyptian military contingent will be participating in the Republic Day parade while the first joint exercise between the special forces of the Indian and the Egyptian Army, ‘Exercise Cyclone – I‘ has been underway in Jaisalmer since 14 January.
“The 14-day long exercise which is being carried out in the deserts of Rajasthan engages both the contingents to advance special forces skills such as Sniping, Combat Free Fall, Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Designation, sharing of information on weapons, equipment, innovations, tactics, techniques and procedures," a statement by the Ministry of Defense said. This is the first such drill involving the special forces from both sides.
Egypt’s Terrorism Response & How It Impacts Ties With India
On top of the agenda, therefore, is defence and counter-terrorism. Egypt’s strategic location straddling West Asia and Africa, acts as a getaway to both regions and Egypt’s hold over the Suez Canal which connects the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean and imputes greater significance to ties with it.
However, along with trade, agriculture, and maritime cooperation Egypt also offers valuable partnership in the fight against terrorism, which is a common menace that counters both countries.
Egypt has invaluable experience in countering and containing terrorism and religious radicalism, something that it is no stranger to. It was in Egypt that the Muslim Brotherhood was founded by ideologue Hassan Al Banna in the 1920s. It mentored other movements and ideologues like Abul Ala Maududi and his Jamaat-e-Islami in the Indian subcontinent with its pernicious two-nation theory.
In other regions of the world, the movement spread its tentacles through organisations like Hamas and Islah party in Yemen, and other parts of the Arab Gulf. The Muslim Brotherhood also provides the ideological mooring for those like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS).
At the same time, Egypt is home to the Al Azhar University, which is a bastion of Sunni Islamic scholarship, and is possibly the Arab world’s only democracy where a vibrant civil society and women’s movement also thrives. Hence, while Egypt has a long history of experiencing Islamist violence, it also has a long history of a pushback against it.
For instance, the assassination of President Anwar Sadat did not stop the country from normalising relations with Israel, thus, becoming the first Arab country to do so. Neither did the Islamist attacks on Egypt’s Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz stop the country from producing similarly bold creative writers. The most striking example of such resilience was demonstrated by the rejection of the Islamist government of the now late Mohammed Morsi by the Egyptian people.
An Insurgent Past & Counter-Terrorism Measures
Like India, Egypt too has a long history of insurgency, especially in its Sinai region which has faced some of the deadliest terrorist attacks. From 2013, terrorism in the country was renewed by the rise of Islamic State in the region and the so-called Sinai Province which is an affiliate of the ISIS in the country, and included the gruesome shooting down of a Russian passenger plane over the Sinai peninsula in 2015.
The SP has also launched attacks in urban areas, together with guerilla-type attacks in the Sinai region. The Egyptian military has been waging a long battle against insurgency and terrorism. President el-Sisi has claimed that since 2013, more than 3,000 military and police personnel had been killed in the fight against terrorism while more than 12,000 have been injured, and more than four billion US dollars had been spent fighting the insurgency.
With setbacks every now and then, however, the Egyptian military has been largely successful in containing such violence and insurgency with the number of attacks dropping over the last several years.
The coronavirus pandemic, however, has caused a huge setback to counter-terrorism successes. Last year, Egypt again faced two huge attacks by the SP which has renewed calls for jihad. Moreover, these attacks were close to the Suez Canal, which raises other concerns about the safety of the chokepoint and the passage of freight from countries like India.
Simultaneously, there has been the rise of the ISIS-KP in India’s own neighbourhood in Afghanistan. The battle-hardened Taliban are finding it increasingly difficult to prevent ISIS attacks which are taking place with increasing frequency as seen in the most recent attacks claimed by the ISIS in Kabul near the Foreign Ministry on 11 January this year and more recently, an attack in Badakhshan province.
Will India-Egypt Partnership Grow Under Modi Regime?
Both India and Egypt have troubled neighbourhoods where lawlessness and conflict offer a conducive environment for terror groups to thrive. Besides, both are also threatened by other terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, Lashkar e Tayyiba, and others, all of whom have very little distinguishing their ideologies from the other.
A new danger that has arisen for India which will call forth a major battle of ideas, is the Popular Front of India (PFI). The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has prioritised the fight against terrorism, which was underscored during his address at the recent Voice of Global South Summit. More importantly, the annual conference of DGPs and IGPs that concluded yesterday has also flagged radicalisation, especially of Muslim youth as a major security challenge in the country and suggested taking the help of moderate Muslim leaders and clerics to counter the trend.
India and Egypt, therefore, offer each other valuable partnership in combating religious radicalism, terrorism, and insurgency together. In fact, during el-Sisi’s earlier visit to India in 2016, a major deal was signed between the two sides to bolster concerns and efforts to counter growing threats of terrorism and ongoing radicalisation, by enhancing cooperation in security and counter-extremism efforts, seeing terrorism and radicalism as ‘the gravest threats the two countries face’.
While Egyptian forces can learn about more effective measures to counter guerilla attacks and intelligence gathering, Egypt can help India in deradicalisation programs and measures using its soft power. A Muslim country, Egypt is at the forefront in the fight against Islamic radicalism and terrorism.
While the administration of President el-Sisi on one hand, deals with terrorism with an iron fist, it is also mindful of people’s religious sensitivities, balancing both adroitly.
Both countries have valuable experience to share in bolstering border security given their troubled neighbourhoods: India with Pakistan, and Egypt with lawless Libya and Sudan, where ISIS has announced its intent to focus on.
Finally, Egypt ranks first in the Arab world, and 13th globally in military manpower, housing the region’s largest military base. As India slowly but surely integrates into the security architecture of the West Asia North Africa (WANA) region, through frameworks like the I2U2 and India-UAE-France trilateral, and with their respective dominance of waterways in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, a defence and counter-terror partnership with it, is both astute and necessary.
(Aditi Bhaduri is a journalist and political analyst. She tweets @aditijan. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)