The second Iranian tour group to visit Egypt in decades arrived in the country on Friday, two months after the arrival of a first group that had raised the ire of ultra-conservative Sunni-Muslim Salafist groups.
Egyptian Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou had earlier attributed the apparent halt of Iranian tourism to Egypt’s “low season.” A ministry source, however, confirmed that the stoppage had been due primarily to Iranian anger over the cold reception received by Iranian tourists in Egypt.
The latest group, which arrived to the Upper Egyptian city of Aswan early Friday, consisted of 134 tourists. During their days-long visit, they are scheduled to tour the city and take a Nile cruise to the nearby city of Luxor.
In April, more than 50 Iranians – the first Iranian tourists to visit Egypt since relations between the two countries were severed more than 30 years ago – arrived in Upper Egypt amid tight security. The visit came as part of a bilateral tourism agreement signed in February between Cairo and Tehran.
Diplomatic relations between the two countries were cut following Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. Since the election of Egypt’s Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2012, relations improved slightly, with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visiting the country in February.
Following Ahmadinejad’s visit, however, Egyptian Salafist figures and movements – along with other Islamist groups – expressed anger, saying such visits could lead to the expansion of Iranian-Shia influence in the country.
Earlier this month, the issue was raised in Egypt’s Shura Council, parliament’s upper house (currently endowed with legislative powers). Speaking before the council, Salafist Nour Party representative Tharwat Attallah declared that Shia-Muslims were “more dangerous than naked women.”
“They pose a danger to Egypt’s national security,” he said. “Egyptians might be deceived into [converting to] Shiism, giving Shia ideology a chance to spread in Egypt.”
Attallah also called on the government to “limit” Egypt’s diplomatic relationship with Tehran, in line with the policies of the ousted Mubarak regime.
Other parliamentarians, however, have downplayed these concerns, maintaining that Iranian tourist groups were not enough to shake the faith of Egypt’s Sunni-Muslim majority.