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After 2 months, Iranian tourists return to Egypt

Updated at: 05/31/2013 3:06 PM
By HAGGAG SALAMA

(AP) LUXOR, Egypt - Several dozen Iranian tourists touched down in an ancient Egyptian city on Friday, the first time Iranians were back in Egypt following a two months’ interruption in the warming-up of ties between the two nations.

The group of 132 Iranians was greeted with tight security measures meant for their own protection, an Egyptian security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media.

It was not immediately clear how long the group would stay or which locations it would visit. Aswan is known for ancient pharaonic archaeological sites, monuments of the Nubian culture and the High Dam along the Nile River.

Egypt was once closely allied to Iran and its former ruling shah. The two countries severed ties after the 1979 Islamic Revolution brought the clerics to power in Iran. Relations soured even more after Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel.

Following the ouster of Egypt’s former autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak in a 2011 uprising, his successor, President Mohammed Morsi, reached out with a visit to the Shiite Muslim nation just months after winning elections last year.

It was the first such trip by an Egyptian leader in decades. And a few months later, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Cairo to attend a conference of Islamic nations.

Egypt has since made an effort to lure Iranian tourists to help the Arab country’s ailing economy as relations between the two regional heavyweights continued to slowly improve. The first Iranian tourists arrived in Egypt in March but a week later, flights were temporarily suspended.

The suspension came days after a group of ultraconservative Islamists known as Salafis tried to storm the residence of Iran’s top diplomat in Cairo. The Salafis were angered by the authorities’ push to improve ties with Tehran and claimed that Shiite Iranians could spread their faith in the majority-Sunni Egypt.

Cairo denied that the flight suspension and protests were linked.

The Egyptian government had said before the first visit two months ago that Iranian tourists would only be allowed to visit certain areas, such as ancient cities and archaeological sites, as well as Red Sea resorts such as Sharm el-Sheikh.

The Iranians are barred from visiting several Shiite shrines in the Egyptian capital, Cairo.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)