Iran's Ahmadinejad kissed and scolded in Egypt

Tue Feb 5, 2013 2:55pm EST
 

By Tom Perry and Yasmine Saleh

CAIRO (Reuters) - Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was both kissed and scolded on Tuesday when he began the first visit to Egypt by an Iranian president since Tehran's 1979 Islamic revolution.

The trip was meant to underline a thaw in relations since Egyptians elected an Islamist head of state, President Mohamed Mursi, last June. But it also highlighted deep theological and geopolitical differences.

Mursi, a member of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, kissed Ahmadinejad after he landed at Cairo airport and gave him a red carpet reception with military honors. Ahmadinejad beamed as he shook hands with waiting dignitaries.

But the Shi'ite Iranian leader received a stiff rebuke when he met Egypt's leading Sunni Muslim scholar later at Cairo's historic al-Azhar mosque and university.

Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, head of the 1,000-year-old seat of religious learning, urged Iran to refrain from interfering in Gulf Arab states, to recognize Bahrain as a "sisterly Arab nation" and rejected the extension of Shi'ite Muslim influence in Sunni countries, a statement from al-Azhar said.

Visiting Cairo to attend an Islamic summit that begins on Wednesday, Ahmadinejad told a news conference he hoped his trip would be "a new starting point in relations between us".

However, a senior cleric from the Egyptian seminary, Hassan al-Shafai, who appeared alongside him, said the meeting had degenerated into an exchange of theological differences.

"There ensued some misunderstandings on certain issues that could have an effect on the cultural, political and social climate of both countries," Shafai said.   Continued...

 
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (C) gestures in front of the shrine of Prophet Mohammed's grandson Hussein ibn Ali at the Al-Hussein mosque, named after the grandson, in old Cairo February 5, 2013. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh