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CAIRO: Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was told not to interfere in the security of Gulf Arab nations and to respect the rights of his country’s Sunni minority as he began a landmark visit to Egypt yesterday.
Ahmadinejad, the first Iranian president to visit Egypt in more than 30 years, was given a red-carpet welcome by Islamist President Mohammed Mursi but later chided by Egypt’s top
Ahmed Al Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s highest seat of learning, demanded “the Iranian president respect Bahrain as a brotherly Arab nation, and not interfere in the affairs of Gulf states”.
He also denounced what he described as the “spread of Shiism in Sunni lands” and said Ahmadinejad must uphold the rights of his Shia-ruled country’s Sunni minority. Ahmadinejad told a news conference at Al-Azhar that he “came from Iran to say that Egypt and the Egyptian people have their place in the heart of the Iranian people.”
“I hope this visit will be a new beginning for solidarity between our two people,” he said.
Ahmadinejad will attend a summit of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation that opens today in Cairo to tackle crises ranging from the French-led battle against Islamist militants in Mali to the Syrian civil war.
The visit comes amid thawing relations between Egypt and Iran, which severed ties with Cairo in 1980, in protest over a peace treaty sealed between Israel and Egypt in 1979, the same year Iran’s Islamic revolution toppled the pro-West Shah.
Iran has been reaching out to Egypt since Islamists came to power in the wake of the 2011 revolution that ousted veteran president Hosni Mubarak, a staunch critic of Tehran.
Mursi, who hails from the powerful Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, attended a Non-Aligned Summit in Iran. AFP