Regarding Egypt’s political transformation

Managing risks is better than trying to predict the future

So what should the Indian government do about the ongoing political transformation in Egypt?

First, ensure that Indian citizens and their interests are protected during and after the crisis. New Delhi has done well on this account, with the Indian embassy in Cairo putting out a statement on the safety of the Indian community there, establishing hotlines and organising special flights to evacuate citizens from Egypt.

Second, it is both premature and arrogant to presume that certain outcomes of the political transformation are desirable merely on account that they are either democratic or that they will prevent destabilising the entire region. It is too early to tell how the transformation will proceed, less to determine whether tomorrow’s political dispensation will be pro- or anti-India. A democratic Egypt—whether or not in the hands of moderate or extremist Islamists—can still pursue anti-India policies, just as an authoritarian regime can. We might prefer a secular, democratic Egyptian republic, but that’s really projecting our own values and biases on them.

New Delhi would do well to avoid taking sides in this conflict—leaving it to the likes of the United States and Europe to pay up for dishes they ordered. At the same time, the Indian government must signal that it will do business with whoever remains or comes to power.

Third, India must prepare to deal with the consequences of the Egyptian transformation, both in Egypt and in the wider Middle East. Much of this is contingency planning: how would India be affected if the reigning despots are replaced by politically elected governments, which might be Islamist? Would we see a shift in the Middle Eastern balance of power, weakening Saudi Arabia and strengthening Turkey? Should anti-American regimes come to power, will they attempt to rely on China to sustain their confrontation with the United States? What will the United States demand of India? These are just some of the questions that need deeper thinking and something that the Ministry of External Affairs’ policy planning department should be working on.

Update: Chimaya Gharekhan in The Hindu & C Raja Mohan in the Indian Express on the subject. (linkthanks Pragmatic_D)

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3 Responses to Regarding Egypt’s political transformation

  1. Saheli 1st February 2011 at 10:24 #

    Two questions: 1) How much of India’s trade is filtered through the Suez canal? 2) On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do Egypt’s Islamic movements engage in Kashmir-specific Islamic rhetoric? Just curious. Not sure that it actually impacts the ‘what should India do’ question at all.

  2. SJ 1st February 2011 at 18:58 #

    “Second, it is both premature and arrogant to presume that certain outcomes of the political transformation are desirable merely on account that they are either democratic or that they will prevent destabilising the entire region”

    On a purely realist logic, it is difficult to quarrel with this. But two points. First, powerful actors can shape those transformations in positive ways. They can encourage and abet actors who are less hostile to parochial foreign policies, and who are less likely to subvert regional stability. The assumptions are not a fixed parameter, but a malleable variable.

    Second, this argument would struggle to persuade those not already committed to a fairly strong variant of realism. This is because (1) people value a certain type of consistency, and it is hard (though possible, of course) to (e.g.) square demands that the US stop propping up a military establishment in Pakistan and demands that we not ‘force’ democratic change in Egypt; and (2) everyone is motivated in part by their values, and they naturally prefer to see others in freedom than oppression. Even if people accept the idea of the national interest, most (I think) are willing to accept sacrifices in its pursuit *at the margin*, to render it consistent with their values.

  3. Vikram Sood 1st February 2011 at 20:12 #

    Myanmar should have hopefully taught us that the business of selecting/electing a government is that of the people themselves. Mynamar was the place where the West had the luxury to practice its principles. Rangoon and Tian An Men happened in quick succession – yet Myanmar remains ostaricised. We too need to get practical and do business with the power that takes over in Cairo, especially when we are in no position to influence much less change the course of events there. As you say let the US and the West work this one out. And what about Iran ?

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