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Egyptian tourism minister on landmark Iran visit

Cash-strapped tourism eyes Iranian visitors amid religious tension fears

Gulf News

Cairo: Egyptian Tourism Minister Hesham Zazou on Monday started a visit to Iran, the first by an Egyptian tourism minister in more than three decades, in a fresh sign of thaw in relations between the two countries.

Zazou said in remarks published in Cairo that his visit is aimed at encouraging Iranians to visit four Egyptian cities famous for beaches and antiquities. “The religious tourism is not my agenda at all,” he told the independent newspaper Al Youm Al Saba, echoing fears in mainly Sunni Egypt about attempts by Iran to spread the Shiite influence.

Zazou’s visit comes a month after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a historic visit to Egypt where he announced that there will be no visa requirement for Egyptians to enter Iran.

Since an Egyptian revolt toppled Husni Mubarak two years ago, Tehran has been courting Cairo to restore their full relations, severed in 1980. Iranian leaders have been encouraged by the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in post-Mubarak Egypt.

Zazou said that his talks in Tehran would focus on operating charter flights for Iranian holidaymakers to visit the Egyptian cities of Sharm Al Shaikh, Hurghada, Luxor and Aswan only. “Iranians will not be allowed to visit Cairo,” he said. Cairo houses many places revered by Shiites.

He added that security arrangements have been made in Egypt to issue entry visas for Iranian visitors as groups.

“My visit comes as a personal initiative to increase tourist arrivals, directly help the country to get hard currency and improve the job market.”

The tourism industry, a key foreign currency earner for Egypt, has been hard hit by street turmoil that has hit the country in the past two years.