Iranian leader in Egypt for Islamic co-operation summit
Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi yesterday warmly greeted his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the first visit of an Iranian head of state to Egypt since the 1979 revolution that ousted the shah.
Mr Ahmadinejad is among two dozen kings and presidents attending the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Co-operation summit which opens today.
The leaders, who first met in Tehran last August, had a brief exchange of views on the Syrian crisis on which they hold opposing views. Mr Morsi has called for the ousting of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, who is strongly supported by Iran.
The final communique of the summit is expected to contain a call for Damascus to engage in “serious dialogue” with opponents despite its rejection of conditions set by the opposition for talks.
While the summit has burnished the regional and Muslim world credentials of Mr Morsi, a Sunni, engagement with Mr Ahmadinejad, a Shia, is considered controversial by Sunni Gulf states and Egyptian Sunnis. It is not likely to result in full restoration of diplomatic relations between Cairo and Tehran.
In an effort to reassure Gulf rulers who are bankrolling a bankrupt Egypt, foreign minister Mohamed Kamel Amr said good relations between Cairo and Tehran would not be at the expense of Gulf security.
Egypt’s Salafi Call group criticised the visit and stated its opposition to “Shia influence on Sunni Egypt” and Iran’s efforts to penetrate Sunni Gulf emirates by stirring up Shia minorities.
Mr Ahmadinejad was received by Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the liberal rector of the 1,000-year-old Al-Azhar, the premier Sunni institution of learning, who saw the visit as an opportunity to chide Iran for discriminating against its Sunni Arab minority and interfering in the internal affairs of Gulf states.
Mr Ahmadinejad’s visit and the summit do nothing to boost Mr Morsi’s credibility on the home front where Egyptians are increasingly restive under Muslim Brotherhood rule. Today separate marches are scheduled to demand retribution for the deaths, woundings and disappearances of protesters, and an end to organised sexual attacks on women during demonstrations.
Culture minister Saber Arab resigned following uproar over images of police beating a naked protester, while the US, which has so far supported Mr Morsi, called on the authorities to honour the freedom to demonstrate and ensure accountability over attacks.
Since the anniversary of the beginning of the 2011 uprising was marked on January 25th, as many as 70 people have died, hundreds have been wounded, 30 have gone missing, and 600 have been arrested, a large percentage of them minors.
‘Culture of death’
Analyst Dina Samak said Egyptians were developing a “culture of death”. Before they go into the streets, youngsters write their names, parents’ phone numbers and addresses on their T-shirts or on pieces of paper which they put in their pockets and therefore can be identified if they are wounded or die.
Ghada Shahbender of the Egyptian Human Rights Organisation refused to discuss Egypt’s growing constitutional crisis or the debate in the upper house of parliament on limiting the right to protest and on the strengthening of police measures to deal with demonstrations. “I am prepared to speak only of the case of a 14-year-old boy,” she said.
She went on to castigate the police and judiciary for renewing the remand for 15 days of Mahmoud Adel, a cancer patient scheduled for chemotherapy during this period. “No evidence [of wrongdoing] was presented by the police . . . He is a child who should be in an institution for children but is in an adult prison with no food, no blanket . . . The regime has lost all legitimacy.”