CAIRO — “India by the Nile” is the biggest foreign cultural festival in Egypt in its fifth year. The Indian Embassy in Cairo and the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism kicked off the festival March 7, and it is set to end April 27. The festival features movies, musical performances, dancing, Indian food and yoga sessions, and they have attracted a high turnout, especially among young people. Activities are organized in public gardens, metro stations, public libraries, the Cairo Opera House and cultural centers in other governorates.
The festival is part of the activities that the Indian and Egyptian governments use to strengthen their ties. Indian Ambassador to Egypt Sanjay Bhattacharyya told Al-Monitor that India wants to renew the close bond with Egypt and revive developmental exchange through the India with the Nile project.
He said, “This year, we will focus on youths, since arts and culture constitute the real connecting bridge between Egypt and India.”
Ever since Bollywood movies brought Indian culture into Egyptian homes, many Egyptians have developed a fondness for it. Khaled Abdul Ilah, 18, clapped and cheered during an Indian dance performance at the Sadat Metro Station on April 5. He told Al-Monitor, “My friends and I love Bollywood movies, and Indian music brings joy.”
The tunnels of the metro stations in Cairo were decorated with posters of “Incredible India” and “Made in India,” put up by the Indian Embassy during the festival to promote tourism and investment opportunities.
In the wake of the 1952 revolution in Egypt, President Gamal Abdel Nasser and former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru became friends and formed the Non-Aligned Movement in 1955. Before then, the two countries had maintained indirect relations since the 1919 revolution in Egypt. Mahatma Gandhi worked to tighten ties with Egypt, as he admired the leader of the 1919 revolution, Saad Zaghloul, in their common struggle against British occupation. India welcomed Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s accession to power in the first elections after the 2013 revolution. Sisi visited India twice, in October 2015 and September 2016, to support their mutual relations.
Bhattacharyya said the festival supports political relations between Egypt and India, adding, “Our relations are at a new high, amid repeated meetings between India’s current Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sisi.” He added, “We have stepped up our security cooperation. Egypt and India are ready to play their role in regional and multilateral issues.”
With the theme “Vivid Walls: Street Art,” the India by the Nile festival gave Egyptian students the opportunity to express themselves and share their ideas with others by creating art on the walls of Cairo. Indian artist Yojish Sayani, founder of the Delhi Street Art Foundation, collaborated with Egyptian artist Mohamed Abla to bring together the children of al-Zamalek neighborhood to create a mural on a school wall.
Abla told Al-Monitor that children were asked to choose a theme and they decided to focus on the sun, since it is a common symbol in both Indian and Egyptian culture. He said, “The children were so happy with the painting.”
One of the initiatives of the Delhi Street Art Foundation is to transform garbage bins in India's Lodi Gardens into public art spaces.
Despite the disputes over yoga in Egypt since Al-Azhar issued a fatwa condemning it as an indecent practice in 2004, many Egyptian people participated in the yoga and other health-focused workshops. The Indian Ministry of Yoga organized them as part of the festival's activities in the Alexandria Library on March 27, in Al-Azhar Park in Cairo on March 29 and in the Child Museum in Heliopolis, as well as in smaller venues.
On March 30, Al-Monitor met with several Egyptians participating in the yoga workshop at the Maulana Azad Center for Indian Culture in Al-Zamalek neighborhood. Hana Abdul Majid said, “I practice yoga as a sport rather than meditation method. This has nothing to do with philosophy or religion for me.”
Amira Fahmi, another participant who works as a freelance journalist, said that despite the opposition to yoga in Egypt, turnout was high, especially among women.
The Indian Food Festival began March 3 and lasted three days at the Semiramis Hotel in Cairo. Indian Chef Vikram Udayagiri told Al-Monitor, “Egyptians love spicy food. That is why Indian dishes are among their favorites.”
The festival program also included an artisanal exhibition between March 8-14 in Cairo and several Egyptian governorates. Businessmen from Cairo and New Delhi met during an economic symposium called “Economic Cooperation between India and Egypt” on March 30.
On April 2, on the sidelines of the festival activities, the Indian Embassy in Cairo honored 10 Egyptian women in various fields — politics, arts, fashion and humanitarian work — as part of its “Prominent Women” event.
Islamic preacher and member of the Religious Committee at the Egyptian Parliament Amina Nuseir, who was among the honorees, told Al-Monitor, “The public cultural rapprochement between Egypt and India is undoubtedly the most durable bond, because politics is a fluctuating field.”
Nuseir derided the opposition to the practice of yoga in Egypt, saying, “There is no justification for forbidding yoga as a sport.”