Passenger Jet Leaves Egypt For Iran In First Direct Flight Between Countries In Decades

A commercial airliner left Egypt for Iran on Saturday in what was the first direct passenger flight between the two countries in more than three decades, Egyptian airport officials said.

Cairo-Tehran relations have warmed since the June election of Egypt’s Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi. Diplomatic relations were frozen after Egypt signed its 1979 peace treaty with Israel and Iran underwent its Islamic Revolution.

Cairo airport officials say a private Air Memphis flight departed for Tehran carrying eight Iranians, including two diplomats. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak to reporters.

Egypt’s tourism minister visited Tehran last month to sign an agreement promoting tourism between the countries. Egypt’s Foreign and Civil Aviation Ministries, however, have set regulations restricting the number and movement of Iranian tourists in Egypt.

Ali al-Ashri, an Egyptian foreign ministry official, said Iranian tourists would only be allowed to visit certain sites, such as the ancient cities of Luxor and resort areas like Sharm el-Sheikh. Cairo was not on the list of places they would be allowed to visit, mainly because it is the site of shrines of revered Shiite figures.

The airport officials said future flights are likely to be scheduled from cities in southern Egypt and will not go through the capital.

The thaw in relations between Sunni-majority Egypt and Shiite Iran is facing scrutiny from Egypt’s ultraconservative Muslims, who view Iran’s rapprochement with Cairo with suspicion. Ultraconservative Salafis consider Shiites heretics, and fear that Iran is trying to spread its faith in the Sunni world.

On Friday, Salafi protesters stormed a meeting at al-Azhar University, which is affiliated with the Sunni world’s most prestigious learning institute. They were trying to stop an Iranian official from attending the meeting. The meeting eventually went ahead as scheduled.

Associated Press