CAIRO: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad discussed the crisis in Syria with his Egyptian counterpart yesterday in the first visit by an Iranian leader to Cairo in more than three decades, marking a historic departure from years of frigid ties between the regional heavyweights.
Ahmadinejad’s three-day visit, which is centered around an Islamic summit, is the latest sign of improved relations between the countries since the 2011 uprising ousted Egypt’s longtime ruler President Hosni Mubarak and brought an Brotherhood-led government to power in Cairo. Such a visit would have been unthinkable under Mubarak, who was a close ally of the US and shared Washington’s deep suspicions of Tehran.
Egypt’s President Muhammad Mursi gave Ahmadinejad a red-carpet welcome on the tarmac at Cairo airport, shaking the Iranian’s hand and exchanging a kiss on each cheek as a military honor guard stood at attention.
The two leaders then sat down for a 20-minute talk.
During his visit to Egypt, Ahmadinejad is scheduled to meet with Grand Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the head of Al-Azhar. He is also scheduled to attend the summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Cairo, which starts today.
Security officials said Ahmadinejad also will tour the Pyramids in Giza.
Egypt’s top scholar Ahmed Al-Tayyeb told Ahmadinejad not to interfere in the affairs of Bahrain or the Gulf and to uphold the rights of his country’s Sunni minority.
In a statement, Tayyeb, the imam of the prestigious Al-Azhar institute in Cairo, also denounced what he described as the “spread of Shiism in Sunni lands”.
Once close, Egypt and Iran severed their relations after the 1979 Islamic Revolution when Cairo offered exile to Iran’s deposed shah. Relations further deteriorated after Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.
Yesterday, Egypt’s Daawa Salafiya, which is the foundation of the main Salafi Al-Nour Party, released a statement calling on Mursi to confront Ahmadinejad on Tehran’s support for the Syrian regime and make clear that “Egypt is committed to the protection of all Sunni nations.”
On the other end of the political spectrum, liberal Egyptian politician Mohamed Anwar Esmat Sadat, nephew of the late President Anwar Sadat, said in a statement yesterday that he is concerned about the Brotherhood’s ties with Iran. Sadat was assassinated after signing Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. Iran then outraged Egyptian officials when it named a street in honor of his assassin, Khaled Al-Islambouli.
Mohammed Abbas Nagi, an Egyptian expert on Iran, said Mursi may be trying to restore some level of diplomatic ties with Tehran in order to show that Cairo is pursuing a more independent foreign policy than that of his predecessor and to keep the door open to the Islamic Republic in case the Gulf states’ support dwindles.