To reap the fruits of the Arab Spring
Shafeeq Rahman advocates a proactive role for India in post-Mubarak Egypt
A PEACEFUL TRANSITION of power has taken place in Egypt after Mohammed Mursi, was sworn in as its first civilian democratically elected President on 30 June in Cairo. After three decades of suffering under the dictatorial Hosni Mubarak regime, the country got a chance to breathe easy in the Arab Spring.
Mursi’s victory, widely quoted as an Islamist due to his association with the Muslim Brotherhood (banned under ousted leader Hosni Mubarak), initially did bother the Western nations. The US felt that he would polarise his politics around Islamic laws, may be even scrap the international treaties and agreements, specifically Camp David Accords for peace between Egypt and Israel. Brushing aside such assumptions, Mursi has reiterated his moderate approach, and has assured in his first presidential speech that all international treaties and agreement would be respected. He has also committed to draw a better future for Egyptians while fulfilling the goals of the revolution: freedom, social justice and dignity without any discrimination on the basis of religion and faith.
The challenges are big and many for Mursi in the post-Mubarak era. Running an ideology or an organisation is entirely different from governing a country. The government can’t take arbitrary decisions and has to work with all sections of the society and within international obligations. Instead of indulging in controversial issues and getting into confrontations with the army, the Morsi government’s priorities should be about solving citizens’ problems relating to security, sanitation, employment and to improve living standards. And Egypt must ensure that the President gets a chance to perform without any external interference or backdoor intervention. Developments like the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ (SCAF) recent dissolution of the People’s Assembly and canceling the election of a third of the members of parliament, and retaining of defense and foreign affairs under the scaf mar the attempts for a change in the system.
Besides the domestic challenges, mending of relations with the Arab countries, maintaining friendly diplomacy with key international allies and mediating of the Palestine issues would be top on the agenda for newly formed government.
India, an emerging trade partner for Arab nations, has welcomed the developments in Egypt congratulating President Mursi on his appointment. The new President would also be inclined to enhance bilateral relations with India due to its neutral and uninterfering policies in the region. Both the countries enjoyed an exceptionally close relationship during the Nehru-Nasser era, and even signed a Friendship Treaty in 1955. Post Mubarak’s ouster, India also offered its expertise in the process of electioneering.
A democratic government in Egypt is in India’s interest as it opens opportunities to expand its investment and trade. India-Egypt bilateral trade agreement has been in operation since March 1978 and is based on the Most Favoured Nation clause and Indian Inc avails numerous preferable advantages for doing the business in that country. Further, Suez Canal, nicknamed ‘The Highway to India’, touching Egypt is one of the major shipping routes for merchandise trade to India. However, India’s commercial relations with Egypt aren’t as close as they are with other countries from the mena region. This, in spite of the lucrative prospects that the country has to offer.
There are about 3,600 Indians in Egypt, of whom about 2,200 were based in Cairo before the revolution take place. Strengthening cooperation in highly unexplored areas of trade, technology, agriculture and culture would take the bilateral relations to new heights.
BUT THERE is always an apprehension of dispensation of powers to civilians being sabotaged and the army trying grab the power again. Any extreme decision by Mursi against the line of international agreements may give it an opportunity to disqualify him from presidentship or may intensify the internal strife, driving Egypt into Iran-like isolation. In such a situation, India needs to protect its interests without bowing to the outside pressure. Any disturbance in bilateral relations with Egypt due to changes in the government may adversely effect the country’s business prospects in the mena countries.
Arab uprising has its pros and cons for India, which can’t remain intact in the near future. As a major trading partner of the Arab region, the country has to play an active role in meeting the aspirations of the Arab people for the betterment of bilateral relations.
Shafeeq Rahman is a researcher on India-centric socio-economic and political databases.