Ahmadinejad's historic Egypt visit prompts Salafist concerns

Ahram Online, Tuesday 5 Feb 2013

The Iranian president arrived in Cairo on Tuesday to a warm welcome from Mohamed Morsi, but Salafist groups are concerned about resuming relations with the Shia state

Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi and Iran's President Mohamed Ahmadinejad (Photo: Reuters)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was greeted at Cairo airport on Tuesday by counterpart Mohamed Morsi, in the start of an historic visit by the leader of Shia Iran to Sunni Egypt.

Ahmadinejad, who is on a three-day visit to attend the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in Cairo, is the first Iranian leader to visit Egypt since diplomatic relations were broken off in 1980, a year after Iran's Islamic revolution and Egypt's peace agreement with Israel.

According to state-owned news agency MENA, the two leaders discussed regional issues and ways to enhance Egypt-Iran relations in a short meeting at the airport.

They further discussed means to resolve the Syrian crisis without relying on military interference. Iran is a close ally of the Syrian regime, while Egypt under Morsi's rule backs the Syrian opposition.

The two presidents met previously in Tehran last August, during the Non-Aligned Movement summit.

President Mohamed Morsi had earlier stated during his 2012 presidential campaign, that he would "never meet with Ahmadinejad until he changes his stance towards the Syrian regime."

Salafist discontent

Members of Egyptian group the Salafist Call criticised the historic visit, stressing their opposition to any "Shia influence on Sunni Egypt."

In a statement, the group also voiced its opposition to the planned visit by the Iranian president to Tahrir Square, describing it as "having the possibility of sending out negative messages given the current critical situation in the country."

"He [Ahmadinejad] must not forget that one of Egypt's global commitments and [part of] President Morsi's presidential programme is to protect all Sunni nations from political, cultural or military penetration."

The influential Salafist group also stated that Ahmadinejad needed to be "confronted with his responsibility regarding the killing of women and children in Syria through, his backing of the regime of Bashar Al-Assad." 

The statement also raised relations with the largely Sunni Gulf. Ahmadinejad must realise that "the security of the Gulf is one of the main pillars of Egyptian national security," read the statement. 

On Tuesday, the Egyptian minister of foreign affairs stated that Egypt's diplomatic relations with different states would not be affected by relationships with other countries, rejecting the idea that warmer relations with Iran would necessarily hinder Egypt's ties with the Gulf.

The Salafist statement went on to demand that the Iranian leader not to be allowed to visit any places or mosques that are claimed by Shia to be affiliated with their doctrine.
Last November, during the Shia holiday of Ashura, when Shia Muslims commemorate the killing of Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Mohamed, Egyptian police barred a number of Shia from entering Al-Hussein Mosque in Cairo to celebrate the religious holiday.

The decision to ban the Shia reportedly came after a number of Salafist youth and some Sunni movements filed a complaint requesting that Shia be blocked from entering the mosque.

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