Egypt opening window to the east

Morsi Pakistan visitAmany Maged assesses President Mohamed Morsi’s current visit to Pakistan and India

Egypt’s new regime is apparently shifting the focus of its foreign policy. Instead of focussing on the West, as the old regime did, Mohamed Morsi is heading eastward.

Morsi started his foreign visits with a trip to China in late August 2012. And, on Wednesday 20 March, he wrapped up an Asian tour that took him to Pakistan and India.

The visit to Pakistan was the first such visit by an Egyptian president for nearly 30 years. Egypt and Pakistan used to enjoy close bonds, going back to the time of Pakistan’s independence. Egypt was one of the first countries to recognise Pakistan, and the Pakistanis remained close partners with the Egyptians in various international forums. In 1973, Pakistan offered safe haven to Egyptian ships. Pakistan also sponsored the Islamic Conference held in Rabat in 1984, which further consolidated friendship between the two countries.

Egyptian-Pakistani ties are likely to grow in foreign policy, as the two countries share the same attitude towards Arab and Islamic issues, including Palestine. In economic terms, Egyptian and Pakistani officials signed several cooperation agreements.

During his meeting with Pakistani businessmen, President Morsi promised to ensure the continual growth of trade and business opportunities. The president also mentioned that this is the right time for the Islamic world to regain its leading role.

In India, President Morsi stressed the need for economic cooperation. On Monday 18 March he launched the Egyptian-Indian Business Council, a forum of businessmen and ministers with a mandate to increase cooperation and investment.

During the past two years, the volume of Indian trade and investment grew in Egypt, especially in communications and petrochemicals.

The volume of trade reached $4.5 billion in the past nine months, and is expected to reach $5.5 billion by the end of the fiscal year.

Egypt exported $2.1 billion to India in the past nine months. These include $200 million of non-oil products, such as oranges, cotton and raw phosphates. Recently, India has been buying more Egyptian oil, while reducing its imports of Iranian oil.

In the first session of the Egyptian-Indian Trade Committee, held in Cairo early this month, Egypt and India announced plans to increase their total trade to $8 billion by 2015. The committee will be setting up a liaison office to resolve any problems facing the flow of trade between the two countries.

Last year, India was the seventh largest trade partner of Egypt. There are nearly 50 Indian companies operating in Egypt in consumer goods, petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals. The total investment of Indian companies in Egypt is currently $2.5 billion and nearly 35,000 Egyptians work in these companies. India is also the second largest recipient of Egyptian exports, following Italy.

The fourth session of the joint Egyptian-Indian Defence Committee, due to be held in New Delhi in April, will focus on cooperation, training and the exchange of visits.

While in India, Morsi signed several memoranda of understanding in maritime trade, information technology, small-scale industry and cultural heritage. The two countries signed two letters of intent: one about launching satellites and the other about supplying an Egyptian village in Marsa Matrouh with lighting through solar power.

Agreements were also made for the training of weaving workers in Shubra Al-Kheima, the creation of an information technology centre in Al-Azhar University, as well as cooperation among Egypt’s Antiquity Council and the cultural heritage fund in India.

An agreement was also made to launch an Egyptian satellite from an Indian space shuttle.

President Morsi met Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, opposition leader Sushma Swaraj and Sonia Gandhi, leader of the United Progressive Alliance.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi conferred with A K Antony, his Indian counterpart, on various aspects of cooperation.

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