AP Interview: Egypt says Iranian pose no risk

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 28, 2013 at 1:05 pm •  Published: March 28, 2013
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A new understanding with Iran would be a shake-up for a region that has been split between Tehran's camp — which includes Syria and Islamic militias Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza — and a U.S.-backed group led by Saudi Arabia and rich Gulf nations. Further complicating relations, the Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules the Palestinian enclave in the Gaza Strip, is a historical offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, the dominant force in Egyptian politics since Morsi's election.

Zaazoua said preparations were under way to allow Iranian tourists to visit, but he declined to disclose a date.

Last week, Egypt's Foreign and Civil Aviation Ministry established regulations for Iranian tourists, mainly restricting the size and movement of the tourist groups.

Ali al-Ashri, an official with Egypt's Foreign Ministry, 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 size of Iranian tourist groups would be limited to 100 persons and there would only be three travel agencies given permits to coordinate the Iranian visits. Flights would carry Iranians directly from Iran to their tourist destination, the civil aviation minister said.

"We don't want to create problems to our country or any other country, including Iran itself," Zaazoua said.

The Egyptian government is looking to boost the tourism business back to pre-revolution levels when 14.7 million tourists visited Egypt in 2010. Continued unrest since the 2011 uprising have scared away tourists and investment. Last year, the number of tourists climbed to more than 10 million, but most tourists go to beach resorts along the Red Sea.

To assuage fears among some that Iranians would try to practice religious rituals in Egypt, Zaazoua emphasized that Iranian tourists would not be allowed to visit religious sites.

"I can't ignore countries like Iran," he said. "I am a technocrat. ... I am looking to just increase the share from international traffic of tourism in the world."