By Hadeel Al Shalchi
CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt halted tourism activities with Iran on Tuesday citing security concerns, a Tourism Ministry spokeswoman said, further distancing itself from Tehran after former Islamist President Mohamed Mursi tried to improve ties.
â€œAt the moment the security situation does not allow the ministry to support travel with Iran, including flights and tourist visits,â€ spokeswoman Rasha Azaizi said, without giving details.
Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Cairo in February, the first visit by an Iranian leader in more than three decades.
The first commercial flight between Egypt and Iran in 34 years took off in March as Mursi tried to normalize ties broken after Iranâ€™s 1979 Islamic revolution. The state news agency said 43 Iranian tourists visited Egypt in April. But regular commercial flights never got underway.
Mursi, elected in 2012, was overthrown by the army in July after street protests against his rule. Azaizi said Mursiâ€™s governmentâ€™s plans to increase tourism with Iran had been put on hold.
Relations between Egypt and Iran broke down in 1979 when Cairo gave sanctuary to the deposed shah. Many in Egypt, a majority Sunni country, still harbor strong feelings against Shiâ€™ite Iran.
The army-backed government views Tehran with deep suspicion. In July, Egypt accused Iran of â€œunacceptable interferenceâ€ in its domestic affairs for criticizing the militaryâ€™s removal of Mursi. Iran called the ousting of Mursi a â€œcause for concernâ€ and suggested â€œforeign handsâ€ were at work in the Arab state.
Egypt historically has much stronger ties with Gulf Arab states, who have vied with Iran for regional influence.
(Reporting and writing By Hadeel Al-Shalchi; Editing by Janet Lawrence)