CAIRO - Egypt’s Islamist President Mohamed Mursi will visit Iran to attend the Non-Aligned Movement meetings on August 30-31, Egyptian state news agency MENA said, the first such visit by an Egyptian head of state to Tehran since the Islamic revolution.
MENA quoted sources at the Egyptian presidency saying on Saturday that Mursi “will participate in the summit” at which Egypt will transfer the bloc’s rotating leadership to Iran, on his way back from China.
A spokesman for Mursi was not immediately available for comment. Egyptian media reports have suggested Mursi might send his newly appointed deputy, Mahmoud Mekki, instead. Cairo and Tehran severed diplomatic relations after the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, and Egypt has accused Tehran of backing militants on its turf.
Mursi, the country’s first Islamist president, has been expected to improve ties with Tehran since his inauguration on June 30. It is unclear whether Mursi will hold two-way meetings with Iranian officials during the visit. Since Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak was toppled in a popular uprising last year, Egypt and Iran have signalled interest in renewing ties severed more than 30 years ago after Iran’s Islamic Revolution and Egypt’s recognition of Israel.
However, with the West pushing Iran to halt its disputed nuclear program and the United States being a major donor to Egypt’s military, any improvement in ties could become a tricky path to tread.
Mursi said in June he would sue an Iranian news agency after it quoted him as saying he was interested in restoring relations with Tehran. Mursi aides said the interview was a fabrication.
Iran hailed the victory of Mursi, who resigned from the Muslim Brotherhood when he was elected in June, as an “Islamic Awakening”. Mursi, however, is striving to reassure Egypt’s Western allies wary at the prospect of Islamist rule, and Gulf states that are deeply suspicious of Iranian influence. Egypt is the current head of the Non Aligned Movement, founded during the Cold War to advocate the causes of the developing world, is set to hand over to Iran in the Tehran meeting.
Egypt’s formal recognition of Israel and Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution led in 1980 to the breakdown of diplomatic relations between the two countries, among the biggest and most influential in the Middle East. They currently have reciprocal interest sections, but not at ambassadorial level.
Egypt’s former president Anwar Sadat received Iran’s late Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi who fled Iran following the revolution in 1979 while one of Tehran’s streets is named after the man who assassinated Sadat during a military parade in 1981.
On Thursday, the United States said it had told Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that the NAM summit in Iran sent a “strange signal” after Tehran reported that the UN chief would also attend.