Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left, and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, right (Photo: AP)
Egypt and Iran signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on Wednesday, promoting cooperation between the two countries in the tourism sector in Tehran, in a development which has deepened the controversy over the two former rivals' rapprochement.
Tourism between the two countries has been almost non-existent since all bilateral relations were severed following Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.
"The agreement is impracticable. It's impossible for Egypt to implement any such agreement at this time," claimed Adel Zaki, head of the Foreign Tourism Committee at the Egyptian Travel Agents Association (ETAA), citing the opposition of Egypt's National Security apparatus and Egyptian public opinion to host Shiite Iranian visitors in Sunni-majority Egypt. "In its current state of political instability Egypt will not be able to handle the security risks posed by an influx of Iranian tourists."
An agreement allowing for direct flights between the two countries, signed in 2010, has yet to be implemented.
"Besides, no Egyptian travel agency will be keen to deal with Iranians at a time when international sanctions have restricted international money transfers from and to Iran," added Zaki, referring to UN-imposed sanctions targeting Iran's nuclear programme.
Zaki went on to affirm that the signing of the MoU by Egypt's tourism minister Hisham Zaazou and his Iranian counterpart was a last-minute decision by the Egyptian presidency, who ordered the minister to travel to Tehran on very short notice earlier this week.
The spontaneity of Zaazou's visit and the signing of the agreement, in Zaki's view, confirmed his suspicions that the move is a "political stunt" and a "gesture of defiance" by the Egyptian presidency ahead of US Secretary of State John Kerry's projected visit to Egypt on Sunday.
"The purpose of this agreement is mainly to reinforce the impression that Egypt can determine its own foreign policy towards Iran, irrespective of the American-led embargo," concluded Zaki.
The Shiite and Sunni majority nations have experienced an unlikely rapprochement since the toppling of former President Mubarak in 2011, whose regime was content with keeping the status quo in its relations with the Islamic Republic.
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Egypt earlier in February to attend the 12th summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
In August 2012, President Mohamed Morsi had become the first Egyptian head of state to visit Iran since the two nations severed ties over three decades ago.