More than 50 Iranian tourists visited sites in southern Egypt
on Sunday amid tight security as part of a bilateral tourism promotion deal that has generated some controversy.
The tourists, who according to a security official arrived on some of the first commercial flights between the two countries in three decades, will be restricted in their movement following objections from some ultraconservative Sunni Muslims to receiving visitors from Shiite Iran.
Members of the Salafi movement in Egypt consider Shiites heretics, and fear Iran is trying to spread its faith in the Sunni world.
As the first commercial flight between Egypt and Iran
in 34 years took off on Saturday, Egyptian media expressed ambivalence toward the normalizing of ties with the Islamic Republic.
In a piece by Cairo's Al-Aharam newspaper, it was written that the Egyptians were both expecting Iranian tourism and afraid of its ramifications, fearing it might spread the Shiite belief across Egypt.
As in other areas, tourism in Egypt has suffered a halt since the 2011 revolution. Riots, road accidents and security irregularities all caused tourists to steer clear of the revolutionized country, and left hotels and vacation spots impoverished.
Those whose livelihood depends on tourism thus await the Iranian groups, in hopes that they could catalyze the end of the economic crisis.
Ali Khalil, the owner of a Red Sea resort,
said: "I welcome the arrival of Iranian tourists to the region as well the arrival of tourists from anywhere else."
"The tourist is genuinely different from the politician, the cleric or the extremist. We must look at the Iranian tourist as we do at all the other tourists that arrive here for pleasure or for cultural pursuits."
As for the fear that Iranians might spread Shiite belief across the country, Khalil added: "We have Israeli
and Buddhist tourists coming to Sinai; it doesn’t mean they spread Buddhism in Egypt."
However, Ali Reza, the owner of a different resort, insisted that "no one can deny the fact that Iranians are fighting to spread the Shia while we fight to maintain our Sunni identity."
Though reserved, Reza also welcomed the arrival of the tourists.
Salem Saleh, the director of Sharm el-Sheikh's Tourism Authority, noted that since there were no Shiite
mosques in his region, he saw no reason to be apprehensive about religious coercion. "The city is not meant to draw religious tourism, which makes the spreading of Shia impossible," he said.
AP contributed to this report
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