MUMBAI, February 14, 2011 - Like the rest of the world, India has been closely watching the events unfolding in the Middle East, keenly attuned to the happenings in Egypt. In light of the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia and Egypt, pundits across India are questioning whether similar protests can happen in India, where statistics of growth rate, inflation, and unemployment bear similarities. Regardless, most experts seem to agree that with its strong tradition of democracy and its openly vocal public, India is unlikely to go down the same path.
Nonetheless, Egypt's instability has policy implications for the world's largest democracy. Ver Marwah of the Centre for Policy Research in Delhi suggests that one of the successes of Mubarak’s regime was its ability to keep the Muslim Brotherhood relatively inactive. While the Brotherhood has not been particularly aggressive to date in its enforcement of conservative Islamic principles, the space left from the removal of the Mubarak government could cause a more reactionary response. For India, there is a concern that a rise of fundamentalist tendencies emanating from Egypt could have resonance in politically volatile parts of India, such as Jammu and Kashmir.
Many have remarked on India’s decided choice to stay silent in the early days of demonstrations, tempering its association with either side of the debate. External Affairs Minister SM Krishna stated that while the Indian government supported the Egyptian people’s right to democracy and freedom of press, the protests are a matter internal to the Egyptian nation. While India may lack the same political history with Egypt that the United States has, leaders of India and Egypt have always been close in contact, with frequent diplomatic meetings through their history. Mubarak most recently visited India in 2008, in the wake of increased Indian investment in Egypt. Economically, India has a vested interest in a stable Egypt.
Economic issues, in fact, seem to be at the forefront of India’s concern when it comes to unrest in Egypt. Primarily, how will limited access to resources in Egypt, primarily oil, affect the economy of India, and already rising fuel prices? Commodity and fuel prices are likely to rise further due to the centrality of the Suez Canal as a trade route between the two countries.
While not a vast contributor, remittance will play a small role in Egypt’s economic tie to India. Citi’s analysis of the effect of the protests on the Indian economy concluded that 48% of remittance to India comes from the Middle East (USD 26 billion). Of that, however, only USD 3.7 million comes from Egypt.
Following Mubarak’s resignation from the Egyptian presidency and departure from Cairo on February 11, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been in touch with SM Krishna to discuss the role India can play in helping Egypt build its fledgling democracy. As former Asia Society Bernard Schwartz Fellow Pramit Pal Chaudhuri wrote yesterday in the Hindustan Times, “Encouraging engagement between Indian and Arab civil society—corporations, academics, media, and NGOs—should now be at the forefront of Indian diplomacy. Nothing resounds more in the Arab world today than the success of Indian democracy.”