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Cultural Connections: India-Egypt

The two nations signed their first cultural agreement in 1958, which envisaged the establishment of cultural institutions in both territories. The spirit of the cultural exchanges attained an institutional embodiment when the Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture (MACIC) was set up as a cultural wing under the Embassy of India in Cairo.

 Cultural Engagements 

The Indian Cultural Centre in Egypt is one of the significant initiatives taken by the Indian government. There were two important aspects considered for opening the Indian Cultural Centre in Cairo. Firstly, the great importance of Cairo as an intellectual and cultural center of the Arab World and Africa, and secondly, the long and rich cultural history of exchanges between the two ancient civilizations.

As the cultural arm of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) was established, it was formally inaugurated in April 1950 with the primary motive of establishing, strengthening, and reviving cultural relations and mutual understanding between India and other nations. The MACIC in Cairo is one of the cultural centers under the ICCR. MACIC screens Indian films in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture, in the Hanager Theatre, Cairo Opera House, every month. 

Diversifying Ventures for Cultural Cooperation

For the last 25 years, glimpses of the Indian painting competition have been conducted for Egyptian children. 2019 was the silver jubilee year, which received an overwhelming response with 16,000 schoolchildren participating from 12 governorates in Egypt. The celebration of the silver jubilee of the painting competition was held in October 2019 and hosted a delegation of 12 artists from India who led two art workshops for the selected Egyptian students, along with three exhibitions and a seminar on “Art in India and Egypt.” A special edition of table calendars has also been printed by the mission to mark the jubilee.

The cultural center also organizes India’s Day in the Egyptian governorates and universities, which is its outreach activity. The Embassy of India observed the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi with multiple, diverse programs including an exhibition and LED projection about the life of Mahatma Gandhi, and seminars, which were conducted on October 2, 2018, and continued until 2019. During 2020 and 2021, the birth anniversary was commemorated on a limited scale due to the pandemic, with a few online competitions in poetry, oration, and essay writing, and a few exhibitions on the life and messages of Mahatma Gandhi. Under the auspices of MACIC, various cultural groups from India perform in various cities in Egypt and make the presence of India felt at all the major festivals of Egypt.

Cooperation in the Academic Sphere 

As far as the academic arena is concerned, several Egyptian students became beneficiaries of the ICCR and other scholarship schemes to study in India. In March 2016, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the first ICCR chair was signed with Ain Shams University. Further, the Indian Chair on Bioinformatics was organized in September 2016 and continued till 2018.

Yoga was another dimension of engagement with Egypt that gained much popularity. There are more than 50 yoga schools in Cairo, besides centers in various other cities. The International Day of Yoga was celebrated for the sixth consecutive year in June 2020. There are seven regular yoga batches at the Cultural Center of MACIC, for beginners to advanced levels. Further, there is increasing interest in the traditional medicines of India. In 2018, two interactive sessions were conducted on Ayurveda and alternative medicines in India.

Celebrations for 75th Anniversary 

On March 25, 2022, the Embassy of India organised a cycle rally. It was a part of the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav celebration, in which more than 1000 cyclists took part in the event. On April 13, 2022, the ICCR Foundation Day was celebrated by the Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture (MACIC), Embassy of India, Cairo. In his addressing note, Ambassador Ajit Gupte emphasised the ICCR’s role in strengthening India’s cultural relations with other countries. A tribute to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was paid by the Embassy of India in Cairo on his 131st birth anniversary on April 14, 2022. The Embassy also celebrated the 161st birth anniversary of Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore on May 9, 2022. It was celebrated in the Embassy AV Hall, aptly named after Tagore. Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture (MACIC) celebrated the 348th Coronation Ceremony of Shivaji Maharaj with much enthusiasm as part of the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav on June 9, 2022. On the 15th of August, on the occasion of the 75th Independence Day, H.E. Ambassador Ajit Gupte hosted the Tricolor at the “India House” and read the president’s speech. The celebration was followed by an inspiring rendition of patriotic songs, a mesmerizing Kathak dance, which was performed by Mr. Luna Poddar’s group, and the grand finale, the Har Ghar Tiranga theme song. In order to mark the momentous occasion of the 75th year of diplomatic relations between India and Egypt, the flags of both nations were projected at India House on August 18, 2022. On the 30th of August, the Embassy of India organized a photo exhibition and cultural program with participants including senior government diplomats, officers, and media.

The strong bond between India and Egypt is evident from the affection and interest among the Egyptian population. Three streets in Cairo are named after Indian leaders, namely Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Dr. Zakir Husain. Three statues of Mahatma Gandhi have also been built. One is at the Supreme Council of Culture, the other is at the Al-Horriya Park in Cairo, and the third is at the Bibliotheca in Alexandria. On the other hand, in Delhi, Gamal Abdul Nasser is named after the late President of Egypt.