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Egypt resumes controversial flights to Tehran

Iranian tourists’ trips set to re-ignite Salafists’ ire

Gulf News

Cairo: A commercial flight left Cairo Friday for Tehran to bring back Iranian visitors to Egypt almost two months after the trips were suspended over protests from Islamist hardliners, said an aviation official.

A plane owned by the Egyptian private carrier Air Memphis took from Cairo Airport for Tehran to bring Iranian passengers to the city of Aswan in southern Egypt, said head of the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority Mohammad Sharif.

The visitors will tour tourist sites across southern Egypt and enjoy Nile cruses between Aswan and Luxor, according to the official.

The first group of Iranians arrived in Egypt in late March, ending a ban of more than three decades imposed by Egyptian authorities.

Their arrival was greeted with vociferous protests from Egypt’s ultra-conservative Salafists, who claim that Iran will use the trips to promote Shiism in the predominately Sunni Muslim country.

In an apparent bid to allay the Salafists’ fears, Egyptian tourism officials have repeatedly said that Iranians’ trips are limited to tourist areas outside Cairo and that they are not allowed to visit Egypt mosques revered by Shiites.

The resumption of the flights will most likely anger the Salafists, who accuse the Islamist President Mohammad Mursi of condoning “Iranian schemes” to spread the Shiite influence.

Mursi visited Tehran in August last year and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a historic visit to Egypt in February.

Egypt hopes that an estimated 5 million Iranians will visit the country every year, helping revitalise its sagging tourism industry hard hit by street turmoil that has erupted since Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow more than two years ago.

Since Mubarak’s fall, Tehran has been wooing Cairo to restore their full relations, severed in 1980 over Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, which Iran does not recognise.