Destinations Africa

Iranian tourists visit Egypt under heavy guard, as relations thaw

Apr 01, 2013 12:30 am

Skift Take

Egypt’s tolerance is being tested on all fronts, including for sects within its own dominant religion as well. Among other things, big tourism dollars are at stake here.

— Rafat Ali

Free Report: The State of Student Travel

More than 50 Iranian tourists visited sites in southern Egypt on Sunday amid tight security as part of a bilateral tourism promotion deal that has generated some controversy.

The tourists, who according to a security official arrived on some of the first commercial flights between the two countries in three decades, will be restricted in their movement following objections from some ultraconservative Sunni Muslims to receiving visitors from Shiite Iran. Members of the Salafi movement in Egypt consider Shiites heretics, and fear Iran is trying to spread its faith in the Sunni world.

After visiting the city of Aswan Sunday, the group is expected to travel to the ancient city of Luxor in a boat down the Nile on Monday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak to the media.

On Saturday, a private Air Memphis flight carried eight Iranians, including two diplomats, to Tehran on the re-opened route from Egypt. The ministry of civil aviation said in a statement Sunday that the routes will operate in southern cities and Red Sea resorts, not Cairo.

Following the June election of Egypt’s Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, Egypt and Iran agreed to promote tourism between the two countries, in a sign of warming relations. Diplomatic relations were frozen after Egypt signed its 1979 peace treaty with Israel and Iran underwent its Islamic Revolution.

Egypt’s Foreign and Civil Aviation Ministries have set regulations restricting the number and movement of Iranian tourists in Egypt, keeping Iranian tourists from visiting the capital Cairo — mainly because several shrines of revered Shiite figures are located there.

Iranian tourists would only be allowed to visit certain sites, such as the ancient cities of Luxor and Red Sea resort areas like Sharm el-Sheikh.

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