Iran's Ahmadinejad sheds tears at Muslim tomb during historic Cairo visit
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prays, cries beside Cairo tomb of Sayyida Zeinab, daughter of Shia Islam's central figure Al-Imam Ali Ibn Abi Taleb
Ahram Online, Tuesday 5 Feb 2013
On a historic visit to Egypt on Tuesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited the mosque and mausoleum of Sayyida Zeinab in the capital's Old Cairo district, where he cried beside the Muslim matriarch's tomb.
Sayyida Zeinab was the daughter of Al-Imam Ali Ibn Abi Taleb, the central figure of Shia Islam and the cousin of Islam's Prophet Mohamed.
Ahmadinejad, currently visiting Cairo for the very first time to attend this year's summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), greeted the mosque's superintendents with hugs and kisses on Tuesday. After praying inside the mosque, he headed to the adjacent mausoleum where he cried and prayed next to Sayyida Zeinab's tomb.
As he exited the mosque, Ahmadinejad hugged and kissed several children he found there, praising them for performing their prayers at such a young age.
Ahmadinejad received a frostier welcome earlier in the day when he met with Ahmed El-Tayeb, the head of Egypt's Al-Azhar, the highest seat of religious learning in the Sunni-Muslim world.
El-Tayeb used the occasion to tell the Iranian president that he rejected the spread of Shia influence in Sunni-Muslim countries, calling on Tehran to "stop interfering in the Gulf," according to an Al-Azhar statement.
Bahaa Anwar, a spokesman for Egypt's small Shia community, meanwhile, criticised El-Tayeb's meeting with the Iranian president.
"The head of Al-Azhar received Ahmadinejad, who is ambivalent towards the Arab world, while he refuses to meet with Egypt's Shias," Anwar told Al-Ahram's Arabic-language news website on Tuesday.
Ahmadinejad's visit also came in for criticism by Egyptian Salafist figures, who practice an ultra-conservative brand of Sunni Islam.
Egypt and Iran have taken radically different courses since the late 1970s. Under late president Anwar Sadat, Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, becoming a close ally of the United States and Europe.
Iran, by contrast, following its 1979 Islamic Revolution, became a centre of opposition to Western influence in the region.
Ahmadinejad's current visit to Egypt indicates a thaw in relations since Egyptians elected an Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, in elections last June. It has also, however, highlighted deep theological and geopolitical differences between the two countries.