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'It's just business' says minister on phobia of Iranian tourists in Egypt

Tourism minister tries to allay fears of 'Shia infiltration' as a new Iranian tour group visits Egypt amid their depressing tourism downturn

Dalia Farouk and Ahram Online , Saturday 1 Jun 2013
Egypt's minister of tourism, Hisham Zazou, speaks during an interview with the Associated Press at his office in Cairo, Egypt (Photo: AP)

The flow of Iranian tourists to Egypt is like any new market that will benefit Egypt's travel industry, says Tourism Minister Hisham Zazou to Ahram Online in light of the recent arrival of Iranian tourist groups.

"It is the ministry’s role to set regulations and conditions that organises tour groups from any market and to monitor the implementation, along with other entities such as security," he tells Ahram Online, seeming to assert that the government could allay public fears.

The group of 134 Iranian tourists who arrived to Upper Egypt’s Aswan early Friday will head to Luxor, Hurghada (on the Red Sea) and Cairo for a one-week visit.

General Mohamed Reda, managing director of Lucky Tours tourist agency (which is organising trips for Iranians in Egypt) explains to Ahram Online that the Egypt’s travel industry is trying to attract any type of tourist. He reveals that his company was not pressured to organise a trip for 134 Iranians.

"Our company didn’t face any trouble while planning for this trip," said Reda. Official apparatuses were very cooperative and another group of Iranian tourists are expected to arrive starting 21 June, he adds.

Reda expects around 200,000 Iranian tourists to visit Egypt in 2013 and estimates they will generate roughly $252 million for Egypt.

In April, more than 50 Iranians – the first Iranian tourists to visit Egypt since relations between the two countries were severed more than 30 years ago – arrived in Upper Egypt amid tight security. The visit came as part of a bilateral tourism agreement signed in February between Cairo and Tehran.

Since the election of Egypt's Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi in 2012, Iran-Egypt relations improved slightly after a 30-year hiatus.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Egypt in February, but Egyptian hardline Salafist figures, movements and other Islamist groups reacted vehemently.

"They pose a danger to Egypt's national security," argued Salafist Nour Party representative Tharwat Attallah before the Shura Council.

"Egyptians might be deceived into [converting to] Shiism, giving Shia ideology a chance to spread in Egypt," adding Shia-Muslims are "more dangerous than naked women."

However, Egypt's economy depended heavily on tourism and has been floundering at less than 30 percent of pre-revolution levels.

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