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Iran's Ahmadinejad in Egypt on historic visit
Published Tuesday 05/02/2013 (updated) 06/02/2013 17:39
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CAIRO (Reuters) -- President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Egypt on Tuesday on the first trip by an Iranian head of state since the 1979 revolution, underlining the thaw in relations since Egyptians elected an Islamist head of state.

President Mohamed Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood politician elected in June, kissed Ahmadinejad as he disembarked from his plane at Cairo airport. The leaders walked down a red carpet, Ahmadinejad smiling as he shook hands with waiting dignitaries.

Visiting Cairo to attend an Islamic summit that begins on Wednesday, the president of the Shi'ite Islamist republic is due to meet later on Tuesday with the grand sheikh of al-Azhar, one of the oldest seats of learning in the Sunni world.

Such a visit would have been unthinkable during the rule of Hosni Mubarak, the military-backed autocrat who preserved Egypt's peace treaty with Israel during his 30 years in power and deepened ties between Cairo and the West.

"The political geography of the region will change if Iran and Egypt take a unified position on the Palestinian question," Ahmadinejad said in an interview with Al Mayadeen, a Beirut-based TV station, on the eve of his visit.

He said he wanted to visit the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian territory which neighbors Egypt to the east and is run by the Islamist movement Hamas. "If they allow it, I would go to Gaza to visit the people," Ahmadinejad said.

Analysts doubt that the historic changes that brought Mursi to power in Egypt will result in a full restoration of diplomatic ties between states whose relations were broken off in 1980 - a year after the Iranian revolution and the conclusion of Egypt's peace treaty with Israel.

Obstacles to full ties

Egypt is concerned by Iran's support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is trying to crush an uprising inspired by the revolt that swept Mubarak from power two years ago. Egypt's overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim population is broadly supportive of the uprising against Assad's Alawite-led administration.

The Mursi administration also wants to safeguard relations with Gulf Arab states that are supporting Cairo's battered state finances and are deeply suspicious of Iran. Mursi wants to preserve ties with the United States, the source of $1.3 billion in aid each year to the influential Egyptian military.

Mursi's government has established close ties with Hamas, a movement backed by Iran and shunned by the West because of its hostility to Israel, but its priority is addressing Egypt's deep economic problems.

"The restoration of full relations with Iran in this period is difficult, despite the warmth in ties ... because of many problems including the Syrian crisis and Cairo's links with the Gulf states, Israel and the United States," said one former Egyptian diplomat.

Ahmadinejad's visit to Egypt follows Mursi's visit to Iran in August for a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, head of the 1,000-year-old al-Azhar mosque and university, will meet Ahmadinejad at his offices in medieval Islamic Cairo, al-Azhar's media office said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi stressed the importance of Muslim unity when he met Sheikh al-Tayeb at al-Azhar last month.

Egypt and Iran have taken opposite courses since the late 1970s. Egypt, under Mubarak's predecessor Anwar Sadat, concluded a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 and became a close ally of the United States and Europe. Iran from 1979 turned into a center of opposition to Western influence in the Middle East.

Symbolically, Iran named a street in Tehran after the Islamist who led the 1981 assassination of Sadat.

Egypt gave asylum and a state funeral to Iran's exiled Shah Reza Pahlavi, who was overthrown by the 1979 Iranian revolution. He is buried in a medieval Cairo mosque alongside his ex-brother-in-law, Egypt's last king, Farouk.
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1 ) Honesty / Reality
05/02/2013 14:09
Honestly, "the political geography of the region" has NOT changed in the 65 YEARS, with the whole Islamic world "taking a unified position" against the creation of the Jewish State of Israel, so in
Reality, it should NOT be expected to change now, just because "Iran and Egypt take a unified position on the Palestinian question" !!

2 ) Typical / Comment
05/02/2013 14:24
The Middle East has changed immensely over 65 years, trust a pro-Israeli to not understand the complex historical dynamics of a diverse region. So ignorant! But no surprise.

3 ) Amira / Canada
06/02/2013 00:24
Sunni and Shiites should unite and work peaceful to resolve their issues. They should establish a Sunni-Shiite international organization that would have committees in every State and every city for study and implementation of true united Islam for peace and justice for all.

4 ) Carlos / usa
06/02/2013 19:07
On one level I agree with Honesty/Reality. I dont think much has changed. But things change. In 1900 Jewish Palestinian were less than 1%. Now they are almost 50%. The main push Jewish immigrants was by the Nazis. They populated israel with a blood thirsty refugees of Europe. Nazis are gone and pressure is relieved. israel is powerful but losing power all the time. israel has lost the propoganda war it was so good at. Boycott, Sanctions and divestment needs time to work. I am doing my part.

5 ) Change for the / Worse
08/02/2013 04:27
The Islamic Middle East has indeed changed over the last 65 years, decidedly for the worse. Egypt and Syria, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon 65 years ago were far more easy going tolerant places to live, with much more cosmopolitan populations, all more advanced socially than today. Israel however has done exceedingly well in the last 65 years. It is vibrant, advanced, socially liberal - really a fine place. It is the only place I would even care to visit again in the Middle East.

6 ) Syrian Joe / Exile
08/02/2013 09:56
@3: what world are you living in? What dream world? Shiites are killing Sunni in Syria and you want a committee? Is Canada so bad you need Shiites to improve it?
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