New democratic Egypt set to scale up India ties: Envoy

By Manish Chand, IANS,

New Delhi : The emergence of a new democratic Egypt augurs well for bilateral cooperation with India, Egypt’s envoy in New Delhi feels.

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Egyptian Ambassador Khaled el Bakly says the emergence is taking the frontiers of bilateral cooperation beyond governments to include robust trade and enhanced exchanges in electoral training, media, youth and sports.

“India-Egypt relations go back thousands of years. We will not see a major change. We have strong people-to-people relations that go beyond institutions. Business is going on even without government intervention,” the envoy told IANS in an interview here.

“There will, however, be better cooperation and more opportunities with the younger leadership in Egypt,” Bakly said when asked if bilateral ties will be transformed under the new dispensation that took charge after long-time Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak was ousted under pressure from mass protests over six months ago.

“This was clear when the new foreign minister of Egypt came to India on his first overseas visit. This shows that the new Egypt is keen to expand its relations with India,” the envoy said.

“With the new and young leadership in place, people in Egypt will open (up) to the whole world,” he said.

Egypt, poised to hold elections Nov 18, has sought India’s cooperation in sprucing up its electoral machinery, an issue that was discussed during the visit of Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Al Araby in May.

“India has offered electronic voting machines (EVMs) and indelible ink and discussed the training of electoral officials. Egypt is considering different offers from different countries,” the envoy said.

He believes that under the new regime, the Egyptian economy – “a little bit closed with lots of monopolies” – will now open up more and bring in fresh trade and investment opportunities for India.

“Our trade stands at $3 billion. We would be very keen to see Indian companies working in Egypt’s infrastructure. Other areas that hold enormous potential are agriculture and agro-processing, oil and gas, medical cooperation and lots of other areas.”

Indian investments in Egypt are estimated to be around $2 billion in areas such as IT, petroleum, oil and gas. Top Indian companies like Essar, Reliance and the Tata group are planning huge investments in Egypt, a country better known outside for pyramids, pharaohs, and the Nile river cruise.

The real change, the envoy underlined, will be in the sphere of expanded people-to-people contacts under a “young civilian technocratic leadership” in his country. “The media was largely controlled by the government. This is one area where we will now see more cooperation with India,” he said.

The youth will be a swing factor. “In Egypt, 65 percent of 84 million are below 25 and I believe that you also have similar demographics. These are the new generations that will be cooperating and working together. There will be more youth and sports exchanges,” he said.

Pointing to over $20 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) in the last six months since the ‘Egyptian Spring’ and the recovering tourism industry, the envoy said the economic outlook is bright as Egypt navigates its transition to an inclusive modern democracy.

“We expect to see a boom in tourism in the winter. Sharm el Sheikh has started receiving 15,000 visitors every day. Lots of visitors, dignitaries now want to go to Tahrir Square (the famous Cairo landmark that was the centre of the popular uprising led by SMS-using youth).”

The Nov 18 elections will be a landmark in the evolution of the post-Mubarak Egypt. A road map has been firmed up to draft a new constitution for the country. “After the elections, the new constitution will be put to a referendum that will decide whether we have a presidential system, parliamentary system or a mix of both,” he said.

(Manish Chand can be contacted at [email protected])