President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, who is the first Iranian leader to visit Egypt’s capital Cairo since the 1979 Iranian revolution, spoke of a reconciliation between the two formerly contentious countries. He is trying to normalize relations that have been strained because Iran is Shi’ite Islamist and Egypt is Sunni Islamist. This difference plays out in various ways, one of which is Iran’s support of Bashar al-Assad in Syria while Egypt favors the insurgency.
The Iranian foreign minister announced that for the first time since 1979, Egyptian tourists and merchants didn’t need visas to visit Iran. In addition, Ahmadinejad said he would offer a loan to cash-strapped Egypt, despite the fact that Iran has been hit hard by sanctions from the West. He said, “I have said previously that we can offer a big credit line to the Egyptian brothers, and many services.”
The Iranian president proclaimed, “We must all understand that the only option is to set up this alliance because it is in the interests of the Egyptian and Iranian peoples and other nations of the region. There are those striving to prevent these two great countries from coming together despite the fact that the region’s problems require this meeting, especially the Palestinian question.”
But Egypt’s foreign minister told Reuters that Ahmadinejad’s speech wasn’t a big deal, that he was in Cairo simply because the Islamic Summit was being held there, “so it’s just a normal procedure. That’s all.” He also told other Gulf Arab countries, who fear Iran, that Egypt was not selling them down the river.
There was evidence Egyptian weren’t altogether happy with the Iranian leader’s presence; Egypt’s leading Sunni Muslim scholar chastised him for his efforts to spread the Shi’ite form of Islam to other Gulf Arab states, three Egyptians and a Syrian were detained because they were suspected of an attempted attack on him, and a bearded man threw a shoe at Ahmadinejad, a serious insult.