Practitioners of India’s foreign policy need to be more pro-active in international affairs if the country is ever going to realistically aspire to become a global player. Despite Egypt and Syria both having close ties with New Delhi, the External Affairs Ministry here has been virtually silent about the unfolding unrest, shunning even the usual rhetoric of the need to resolve such crises peacefully. Meanwhile, other leading powers have been quick to step up and engage, leaving India a curiously silent outlier on the international stage.
Perhaps the Manmohan Singh government is too bogged down with its own problems. Regardless, this passivity – or simple lack of interest – isn’t fitting for a nation of 1.2 billion people that has ambitions of becoming a major power.
Egypt is a particularly good case in point of India’s shortcomings. The country is still in the throes of its Arab Spring as Cairo’s Tahrir Square has once again emerged as the epicenter of mass protests and violent demonstrations. With dozens having been killed in violent clashes there, Egypt is apparently witnessing the second act of its revolution, following the ouster of Hosni Mubarak earlier this year.
Egypt’s present crisis escalated on November 18, when thousands of protestors converged on Tahrir Square. The protesters are frustrated at what they see as the lack of progress under military rule since Mubarak’s fall. With the lot of the average Egyptian having changed little under the transitional military government, protesters have pressured the Egyptian cabinet into offering its resignation to the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
The crisis comes just as the country is preparing for a parliamentary election. And, although the SCAF has so far put on a brave face, vowing to go ahead with the polls as scheduled, the current frayed tempers among this country of 80 million people will have to cool if free, fair and transparent polls are really to be held.
The Muslim Brotherhood, a major Salafist political force in Egypt, has already unilaterally announced its decision to stay out of the protests even as the Egyptian military has put in place constitutional safeguards for military leaders. The party is arguably being very sensible in trying to create more political space for itself through the ballot box rather than frittering its chances away through violent demonstrations.
Either way, though, India’s policy makers really need to sit up, take notice and thrash out a response.