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Iran Flight Halt Meant to Overcome Salafi Anger, Minister Says

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April 8 (Bloomberg) -- Egypt’s tourism minister said he suspended passenger flights from Iran to try to overcome objections at home to warming ties between the two nations.

Some in predominantly Sunni Egypt are uneasy over improving relations between the regional powerhouses, which recently renewed ties ruptured more than three decades ago. Ultraconservative Sunni Salafis say the rapprochement will give Iran an opportunity to spread its Shiite Muslim ideology in Egypt.

Minister Hisham Zazou said the flights would be halted temporarily so he could open a dialogue with the Salafis.

“It’s a chance for me as a minister to begin consultations with political groups and parties, especially with Salafis who opposed the decision” to renew the flights, Zazou said today in a phone interview.

The Iranian agent organizing the flights said she had not been notified of the decision, the state-run Iranian Student News Agency reported.

The two countries severed ties in 1979 after the Islamic Revolution and Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. Relations between the arch-rivals have improved since Islamist President Mohamed Mursi was elected in June, and their leaders exchanged visits for the first time in decades.

One product of the new links was the starting of charter flights from Iran in March. The arrival of the first tour group over a week ago touched off Salafi condemnation, and Salafis tried to storm an Iranian diplomat’s residence in Cairo over the weekend, state-run Middle East News Agency reported. Egypt’s Foreign Ministry denounced the attack today.

The halting of the flights following the Salafi outcry is an attempt at “blackmail by the opposition,” Roghiyeh Hatami-Pour, an official with the sole Iranian travel company organizing the tours, was cited as saying by the Iranian Students News Agency.

She said she wasn’t informed about the suspension.

“We will continue our work of sending tours from Iran to Egypt,” Hatami-Pour said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tarek El-Tablawy in Cairo at teltablawy@bloomberg.net; Salma El Wardany in Cairo at selwardany@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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