Ahmadinejad's visit to Cairo on Tuesday, the first by an Iranian leader in more than three decades, highlights efforts by Egypt's Islamist leader to melt long frigid ties between the two regional powers.
He came to attend a summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). After red-carpet welcoming ceremony at Cairo airport , top leaders of both countries discussed ways to resolve the crisis and end Syrian bloodshed without military intervention, and ways to strengthen relations between their countries, said the official Egyptian MENA news agency as reported by Aljazeera.
A bilateral discussion was also held that day at Cairo's historic al-Azhar mosque and university between Ahmadinejad and Ahmed al-Tayeb, the head of the prestigious Sunni Muslim al-Azhar institute. At this meeting Tayyeb told Ahmadinejad to give full rights to Sunnis living in Iran and refrain from interfering in the affairs of Gulf Arab states. The official IRNA news agency reported that Ahmadinejad will be holding meetings with several Egyptian officials and politicians during his three-day visit.
Despite the warm official welcome, Fox News reported that there was unscripted discord from Sunni protesters angry over Iran's support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, as well as decades of sectarian animosity between Shiite-led Iran and the region's Sunni majority. Ahmadinejad was forced to flee the ancient al-Azhar mosque after a Syrian protester took off his shoes and threw them at him. Later, anti-Iranian protesters raised their shoes up while blocking the main gates to Al-Azhar, the Sunni world's most prestigious religious institution, where Egypt's most prominent cleric chided Ahmadinejad for interfering in the affairs of Sunni nations.
Since Morsi took power in 2012 Egypt has responded cautiously to Iranian efforts to revive ties as the two nations adopting opposing positions on the Syrian conflict. Iran supports the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Egypt has been a leading voice in urging his departure - along with Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar.
A senior cleric from the Egyptian seminary, Hassan al-Shafai, said the meeting had degenerated into an exchange of theological differences. "There ensued some misunderstandings on certain issues that could have an effect on the cultural, political and social climate of both countries," said Shafai as reported by Reuters.
Egypt and Iran took opposite directions since the late 1970s. Under Anwar Sadat Egypt concluded a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 and became a close ally of the United States and Europe, while Iran turned into a center of opposition to Western influence in the Middle East. Egypt gave asylum and a state funeral to Iran's exiled Shah Reza Pahlavi, who was overthrown in the 1979 Iranian revolution. He is now buried in a mosque beside Cairo's mediaeval Citadel alongside his ex-brother-in-law, Egypt's last king, Farouk.