Middle East

Egypt suspends tourist flights with Iran

Egyptian protesters raise their shoes as they shout political and religious slogans outside the Iranian ambassador's residence in Cairo on April 5, 2013. AFP PHOTO/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA

CAIRO: Egypt has suspended tourist flights from Iran following an outcry from hard-line Sunni Muslims angered about visitors from the mostly Shiite country, only a week after direct flights between the two countries resumed for the first time in more than three decades.

In comments carried by Egypt's state news agency late Sunday, Tourist Minister Hesham Zaazoua did not give a reason for the move. The suspension, which will last until June, comes days after a group of ultraconservative Salafis, angered by the Egyptian government's push to improve ties with Tehran, threw rocks and tried to storm the residence of Iran's top diplomat in Cairo.

The crowd that gathered outside the diplomat's home in Cairo on Friday, chanted "Egypt is Sunni," and "No Shiites in Egypt!" The first tour of some 50 Iranian visitors was limited to Egypt's south, away from potentially sensitive religious sites revered by Shiites, mostly in the capital.

Many of the protesters, who wore the traditional beards of Salafi hardliners, raised their shoes in the air - a sign of disrespect in the region - and tore down the residence's official sign outside the building's main gate, then stomped on it.

Some of the protesters threw rocks that smashed a window of the building. Others hung a green-striped Syrian rebel flag on the gate and chanted against Tehran's support of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime and the killing of mostly Sunni anti-government protesters in Syria.

After someone from inside the gate pulled down the flag, some in the crowd tried to storm the diplomat's residence but Egyptian riot police pushed them back.

Iran and Egypt do not have embassies or ambassadors in each other's countries, but do send diplomatic representatives. Full diplomatic ties were frozen after Egypt signed its 1979 peace treaty with Israel and Iran underwent its Islamic Revolution. Relations began to improve after former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down in a popular uprising in 2011, and the Islamist Mohammed Morsi won presidential elections in June.

According to the statement, Zaazoua said that the suspension period will be used to "reevaluate and review the experience and the tourist program with the Iranian side."

There were no immediate comments from Iranian officials.





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