Egypt-Iran tourism plan still alive, says Egyptian minister

Efforts to foster Iranian tourism to Egypt have not been cancelled, Tourism Minister Hesham Zaazou said Wednesday morning.

His comments follow outcry by Egypt's conservative Salafis over warming ties with Shia majority Iran that prompted the ministry on Sunday to suspend flights from Tehran until the second half of June.

The flights were part of an initiative to normalize ties between the two countries after more than three decades. Egypt and Iran severed ties after the 1979 Islamic Revolution when Egypt gave sanctuary to the deposed Shah and recognized Israel in a peace treaty.

Zaazou, who is in Qatar as part of a Cabinet delegation visit, said the government is assessing the visit of the first batch of Iranian tourists.

The two nations implemented a recently signed tourism convention with the first charter flight from Tehran on 30 March, which brought 45 Iranian visitors to Aswan.

Renewed Iranian tourism would represent a big gain for Egypt, the minister said in televised statements late Tuesday. He estimated that receiving 200,000 Iranian tourists would bring in US$252 million. In attempt to reassure the public, Zaazou said the tourists are not targeting religious destinations and that Egypt could block Iranian tourism if it detects any attempt to promote Shi'ism.

Zaazou also repudiated recent reports about an alleged deal to entrust the management of mosques in Fatimid Cairo to Iran. He said Iran had also denied the reports.

Egypt’s Salafis have expressed concerns of the recent rapprochement with Shia Iran, fearing that enhanced relations and tourism cooperation might lead to a spread of Shi'ism in the mainly Sunni country.

Zaazou said he would sit with Salafi leaders to discuss the issue, emphasizing the need for Egypt's struggling economy to tap into any source of income.

Edited translation from MENA

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