India-Egypt bilateral ties have seen a significant upswing in recent years

The Republic Day Parade 2023 in New Delhi on January 26 will see two firsts - Abdel Fattah El-Sisi will be the first Egyptian President to be the Chief Guest at the event and a military contingent from the Egyptian Army will take part in the parade for the first time.

This is obviously much more than a coincidence. India-Egypt bilateral ties have seen a significant upswing in recent years.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar paid his first bilateral visit to Egypt on October 15-16, 2022. During his interactions with the Egyptian leadership, he exchanged views on a whole range of issues of mutual interest. The visit provided an opportunity to deepen cooperation and explore new initiatives in the bilateral partnership.

President El-Sisi's second state visit to India from January 24-26 - the first was in September 2016 - is expected to add further momentum to this relationship.​"The forthcoming visit of President Sisi is expected to further strengthen and deepen the time-tested partnership between India and Egypt," the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said on Friday.

Growing military-to-military cooperation

In September 2022, during Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh's visit to Cairo, the Egyptian President expressed appreciation that military-to-military cooperation between both the countries had reached "a new level". He had also emphasised on the need for India & Egypt to exchange expertise and best practices in countering the threat of terrorism.

During Singh's visit, India and Egypt signed a pact on defence cooperation thereby signalling their intent to forge closer ties in this sphere. Singh and Egyptian Defence Minister General Mohamed Zaki had also agreed on more joint exercises and exchange of personnel for training, especially in the field of counter-insurgency.

The beginning of 2023 has already witnessed a definitive push in this direction.

India and Egypt launched the first-ever joint exercise between the special forces of their armies, 'Exercise Cyclone-I', on January 14, 2023. The 14-day exercise focuses on sharing professional skills and interoperability of special forces in desert terrain while undertaking counter terrorism, reconnaissance, raids and other special operations.

During the exercise, being held in the deserts of Jaisalmer in the Indian state of Rajasthan, both contingents have engaged to advance special forces skills such as Sniping, Combat Free Fall, Reconnaissance, Surveillance & Target Designation, sharing of information on weapons, equipment, innovations, tactics, techniques & procedures.

The participants have also undertaken joint planning and drills for special forces operations in a mechanised warfare setting as well as surgical strikes on terrorist camps and hideouts to include sniping of High Value Targets.

It is also worth recalling that the Indian Air Force (IAF) participated in a month-long Tactical Leadership Programme in Egypt in 2022. The programme was held at the Egyptian Air Force Weapon School from June 24-July 24 at the Cairo West Airbase. The IAF participated with three Su-30MKI aircraft, two C-17 aircraft and 57 IAF personnel (including the C-17 contingent).

"In the present geopolitical scenario, this exercise provides a unique opportunity to showcase reach and capability of the IAF," India's Ministry of Defence had pointed out.

Regular bilateral interactions

When it comes to defence and security, several bilateral institutional mechanisms are in place, including:

* Joint Defence Committee (JDC) to oversee the overall defence cooperation.

* A Joint Working Group (JWG) on Counter-Terrorism.

* Security dialogues at the level of National Security Advisors (NSA) and deputy NSAs.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to a slowdown in interactions, but since June 2021, several defence delegations have visited Egypt. This includes one led by Indian Air Force Chief Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari, who visited Cairo from November 28 to December 2, 2021 to attend the Air Power Symposium and Defence Exposition (EDEX).

In July 2022, Air Chief Marshal Chaudhari held wide-ranging talks with his visiting Egyptian counterpart, Air Marshal Mohamed Abbas Helmy Md Hashem, on ways to enhance cooperation between the two air forces.