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Cairo’s main souk in the crowded Islamic district, shop owners seek out Indian Tourists with friendly hails of Amitabh Bachchan

A pyramid in Egypt, VOA

– by Tarun Basu

April 19, 2017: At Khan el Khalili, Cairo’s main souk in the crowded Islamic district, shopowners seek out Indian tourists with friendly hails of Amitabh Bachchan! Shah Rukh Khan! Welcome!! These two actors are by far the most popular Indians in Egypt, a testament to the enormous soft power of Bollywood.

When Bachchan came to Cairo in April 2015 for the Indian Culture Festival, he was mobbed like a rockstar wherever he went. And when he met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, he reportedly remarked in jest that he was so overwhelmed by his fan following in the country he might even think of contesting a presidential election — and perhaps win it!

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With so much goodwill in Egypt for Indians one often wonders why the two countries are not closer partners and why friendship with Egypt is not talked about in India in the same vein as other countries with which New Delhi shares close political, economic and cultural ties.

With the ascent in both countries of two strong leaders, Narendra Modi and Sisi, came a change in the strategic calculus through a series of quick meetings between them — in New York and New Delhi.

The New York meeting, where something evidently clicked between Modi and Sisi, acknowledged historical bonds, found common ground in counter-terrorism cooperation and investment opportunities, and set the ground for future meetings. It was quickly followed by a visit by Sisi to New Delhi for the India Africa Forum Summit and then, within a year, with a state visit where the two leaders talked of working towards robust security cooperation following a major convergence of views on regional and global issues.

India and Egypt shared strong chemistry in the 1950s and 1960s, with close personal and political ties between their independence leaders Jawaharlal Nehru and Gamal Abdel Nasser, founders of the Non-Aligned Movement. But after their deaths, ties slumped with President Hosni Mubarak, who ruled for 40 years, not having the same comfort level with the Indian leadership. Although Mubarak did make a visit to New Delhi in his later years, the turning point in perceptions in many ways came during the short-lived rule of the democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood and the visit to New Delhi in May 2013 by President Mohammed Morsi.

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Although Morsi was ousted — and arrested — within a month of his return to Cairo, and the visit was criticised by many as ill-timed with New Delhi seen as being a little out of touch with the region’s political realities, the growing importance of India for Egypt was beginning to be realised by its policymakers.

With the Middle East in upheaval and relations with the US looking uncertain, Cairo, that was used to putting all its strategic and economic eggs in the Western and Arab baskets, is looking, like other regional powers, at Asia and, more particularly, China and India. While China is a source of expanding investment in the region, India’s salience as a major economic and geopolitical power has increased in Egyptian eyes after the recent high-level visits and close strategic ties forged by New Delhi with key powers like the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

India has been holding a major multi-city cultural exposition in Egypt, called imaginatively ‘India by the Nile’, bringing in musicians, dancers, artists, street performers, not to mention Bollywood stars, that enhanced significantly the image of India in the Egyptian consciousness.

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Indian companies have found Egypt a good destination for business. Over 50 Indian companies are present in Egypt with an investment of $3 billion, providing employment to about 35,000 Egyptians. And Egypt’s recent discovery of gas, its upward looking economy following a currency float and growing foreign investment have added impetus to growing ties.

Companies like Kirloskar with their water pumps and Dabur and Monginis with their personal care and confectionery products are household names in Egypt, and many firms recognise the Suez Canal area as a potential hub of future expansion because of the country’s economic arrangements in the Arab world, Africa and the European Union. Even though there are only three Egyptian companies in India, bilateral trade has grown 60 percent over the last five years to touch almost $5 billion.

The current thinking in New Delhi is that if Cairo plays its cards right, a stronger Egypt could play a more moderating role and help in restoring regional stability and security. India is therefore investing a lot more in Egypt not only to shore up its profile but also to use the goodwill it builds up in projecting a larger role for itself in North Africa and the Arab world.

With a political foundation of friendship from the sixties India has the ability to tap into popular sentiment and cultural affinity, an advantage that few countries enjoy in Egypt, remarks Sanjay Bhattacharyya, India’s Ambassador in Cairo.

And the ‘India by the Nile’ show is by far the largest such exposition in Egypt by any country here in recent times.

Despite recent terror attacks, India is demonstrating a major vote of confidence in the Egyptian government’s ability to deal with Islamist extremism by not cancelling music and dance shows as part of the festival in Alexandria, one of the two cities where minority Coptic Christian churches were targets last week.

The future of bilateral ties look promising and there is much expectation in Prime Minister Modi, who has shown personal interest in shoring up ties, making a visit there later this year. (IANS)

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State Honours For Sridevi’s Funeral, Procession Is Among Largest Recorded In Mumbai

Maharashtra government accorded full state honors for the funeral of Sridevi

The other big funerals of non-political personalities in Mumbai included those of Raj Kapoor (June 1988) and Vinod Khanna (April 2017). IANS

Several lakhs turned up to join a long procession — among the largest in recent times — to mark the final journey of actress Sridevi which started near her residence to a crematorium in Vile Parle on Wednesday afternoon.

A tall, open truck, fully decorated with white flowers — her favorite color — carried her body which was first draped in the national tricolor and then loaded in a glass casket, as cries of �Sridevi Amar Rahe’ rent the air among her fans.

Maharashtra government accorded full state honors for the funeral of Sridevi — who was conferred a Padma Shri in 2013, which included draping her body in the national tricolor, elaborate arrangements by the Mumbai Police and a gun salute before the cremation.

ALSO READ: Dubai Police: Famous Bollywood Actress Sridevi Died from Drowning

Her grieving family members including husband Boney Kapoor, her step-son Arjun Kapoor and brothers-in-law Anil Kapoor and Sanjay Kapoor were among those who traveled in the truck with the body. Wikimedia Commons

Inside the truck was Sridevi lying serenely with full make-up, a large south Indian style vermillion and wearing a ceremonial gold and maroon colored Kanjeevaram sari. A heavy, large necklace adorned her since she died an �suhaagan’ (still married), giving the appearance of a resplendent �devi’ (Goddess) in deep slumber.

The truck slowly negotiated the approximately six km passing through some of the poshest areas of Andheri and Vile Parle suburbs, with a massive portrait of Sridevi visible from a distance.

Several lakhs of people including students, office-goers, and others accompanied or waited on both side of the roads, looked on from buildings and bungalow terraces. Many climbed on signals and lamp posts for the last glimpse of their beloved heroine.

In terms of sheer numbers, Sridevi’s funeral is estimated to have attracted the highest number of mourners, ranking on par with the previous biggest funeral processions of the legendary singer Mohammed Rafi (July 1980: around a million mourners), and India’s first superstar Rajesh Khanna (July 2012: a little less than a million mourners).

The procession was led by several family members, close relatives, friends and even neighbors of the Green Acres society where the family lived in Lokhandwala Complex. Wikimedia Commons

ALSO READ: Sridevi’s daughter Jhanvi Kapoor all set to debut in Bollywood

Among the prominent personalities who attended the funeral in Vile Parle were Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Randhir Kapoor and others who came to bid a final goodbye to Sridevi.

Sridevi’s daughters Janhvi and Khushi Kapoor performed the final rituals before the body was consigned to the flames with husband Boney standing nearby.

Earlier, since dawn, thousands of teary-eyed fans and admirers of the late actress, many carrying flowers, had queued up outside the Celebration Sports Club at Lokhandwala Complex for a final �darshan’ of their idol.

After the flower-bedecked body was brought to the club premises a steady stream of celebrities came in their vehicles and was whisked inside to pay their last respects.

Among the early callers seen were Rekha, Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan, Arbaaz Khan, Madhuri Dixit-Nene, Akshaye Khanna, Tabu, Farah Khan, Nitin Mukesh, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Vidya Balan, Sushmita Sen, Shabana Azmi, Javed Akhtar, Madhur Bhandarkar, Deepika Padukone, Sanjay Leela Bhandsali, Jackie Shroff, Farhan Akhtar, Hema Malini, Jaya Bachchan, John Abraham, Ajay Devgn and Kajol, Anupam Kher and Sulabha Arya, among others.

In the past four days since her demise, the Kapoor household had witnessed a steady stream of visitors including Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Krishna Raj Kapoor. Wikimedia Commons

ALSO READ: Janhvi’s Onscreen Mom Worried About Sridevi’s Daughters

Most of the visitors on Wednesday were sporting dark sunglasses to ward off the harsh early-summer glare, carrying flowers or small bouquets, embraced and consoled the bereaved family members, entering from the main entrance and leaving quickly from the other side as fans tried to catch a glimpse.

Sridevi’s body was flown to Mumbai from Dubai where she passed away following an accidental drowning in a bathtub in her hotel room around 11 pm on February 24, and from the airport was taken to the Kapoor residence in Green Acres.

Meanwhile, Green Acres housing society on Wednesday canceled Holi celebrations as a mark of respect for Sridevi.

For the final journey, at the club and the crematorium, the Mumbai Police implemented elaborate security arrangements at various venues and arranged special traffic and crowd management measures. (IANS)