Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, center, waves to Egyptian worshippers after he visits the shrine of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Islam’s Prophet Mohammad, in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013. Egypt’s most prominent Muslim cleric, the sheik of Al-Azhar, has warned Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against interfering in Arab Gulf countries or trying to spread Shiite influence. Ahmadinejad, on a landmark visit to Egypt on Tuesday, received an uneasy reception from Ahmed el-Tayeb at Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world’s foremost Islamic institution.(AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
CAIRO (AP) — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Cairo on Tuesday, the first by an Iranian leader in more than three decades, highlights efforts by Egypt’s Islamist leader to thaw long frigid ties between the two regional heavyweights.
Although the official welcome was warm, there was unscripted discord from Sunni protesters angry over Iran’s support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, as well as decades of sectarian animosity between Shiite-led Iran and the region’s Sunni majority.
At one point, Ahmadinejad was forced to flee an ancient mosque in downtown Cairo after a Syrian protester took off his shoes and threw them at him.
Later, anti-Iranian protesters raised their shoes up while blocking the main gates to Al-Azhar, the Sunni world’s most prestigious religious institution, where Egypt’s most prominent cleric chided Ahmadinejad for interfering in the affairs of Sunni nations.
The protests illustrate the limits to how far and how quickly Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi can go in reaching out to Iran: His Sunni allies at home view mainly Shiite Iran as a bitter rival, and Cairo can’t afford to alienate Washington and Gulf Arab states who seek to isolate Tehran.
The three-day visit, centered around an Islamic summit, was an attempt by Morsi to strike an independent foreign policy and reassert Egypt’s historic regional leadership role following the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, a close U.S. ally who shared Washington’s deep suspicions of Tehran. Such a visit by an Iranian leader would have been unthinkable under Mubarak.
Morsi gave Ahmadinejad a red-carpet welcome on the tarmac at Cairo airport, Login to read more