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Ahmadinejad To Egypt In Landmark Visit

Published: February 5, 2013 | 7:59 am
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President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is heading to Cairo to make the first visit to Egypt by an Iranian head of state in more than three decades.

Reports say the president of Shi’ite Muslim-majority Iran may meet with Egypt’s top Sunni Muslim cleric, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, at Al-Azhar University.

Ahmadinejad is leading the Iranian delegation to the Cairo summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which begins February 6.

Since the early 2011 revolution that toppled Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak, Iran has taken steps to improve its relations with Egypt.

Ties between the regional powers were cut after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi, who is backed by the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, visited Iran in August 2012 for a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Iran welcomed Morsi’s election last June as Egypt’s first freely elected civilian president, saying it marked a new stage of development in the Middle East and an “Islamic awakening.”

The two countries, however, have remained deeply split over the civil war in Syria.

Iran is one of the last remaining allies of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which is led by members of the Alawite community, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam. Tehran has vigorously opposed any move toward foreign intervention in the conflict.

Morsi, meanwhile, has been a vocal opponent of the Syrian regime. His government has expressed backing for the rebels seeking to overthrow the government.

The Syrian war is expected to be among the main issues discussed at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit in Cairo. Syria’s membership in the organization has been suspended because of the war.

Ties between Iran and Egypt were bitter during the rule of Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for 30 years before he was ousted amid mass demonstrations in February 2011, leading to Morsi’s eventual election.

Moves were made last year to reestablish formal Iranian-Egyptian relations, but full diplomatic ties have not yet been restored.

Once-strong links between Iran and Egypt were severed after 1979, when Iran had its Islamic Revolution and Egypt reached a peace agreement with Israel. Iran does not recognize the Jewish state.

In a sign of the former hostility between Iran and Egypt, Iran named a Tehran street after the Islamist who led the squad that in 1981 assassinated Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president who concluded the peace treaty with Israel.

Both Egypt and Israel receive billions of dollars in aid each year from Iran’s rival, the United States.

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