- Middle East/North Africa
Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar Ahmed al-Tayyeb will receive Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Al-Azhar Tuesday, according to a source close to Tayyeb.
Turkish news agency Anadolu cited the same source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as saying that the meeting represents an effort “to bolster cooperation between Al-Azhar and Iran.”
Ahmadinejad will head Iran's delegation to a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Cairo, said Amani Mojtaba, head of Iran's interest section in Cairo, which Iran maintains in the absence of an official embassy.
“I hope that Iranian-Egyptian relations return to the full diplomatic level,” he told Reuters.
The visit will be the first by an Iranian President to Egypt since diplomatic relations were severed in 1979.
The trip follows a visit by President Mohamed Morsy to Iran in August last year, when the two leaders agreed to reopen official embassies.
Tehran broke off relations with Cairo in 1980, a year after both Iran's revolution and Egypt's peace agreement with Israel.
While the countries were estranged, Egypt gave asylum and a state funeral to Iran's exiled Shah Reza Pahlavi, who is buried in a medieval Cairo mosque alongside his ex-brother-in-law, Egypt's last king. Iran named a street after the assassin who killed Egypt's President Anwar Sadat.
The 2011 uprising that toppled Egypt's former President Hosni Mubarak has provided a chance to reopen formal relations. But Egypt, like other Sunni Muslim Arab states, remains at odds with Shia Iran over many regional issues.
Morsy has been among the most vocal opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Iran's ally. Syria's membership of the OIC was suspended at the organization's last summit, despite strong Iranian objections, and the turmoil there is likely to be one of the main issues discussed in Cairo next week.
The OIC summit will be the largest international event Morsy has hosted since taking power seven months ago as Egypt’s first elected leader.
Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the secretary-general of the OIC, described Egypt as a pioneer in the Islamic world with a long history of defending and serving Islam, adding that Egypt has entered a new phase of its history where the people aspire for democracy, security and stability and where the Islamic identity of the state is emphasized.
In statements to MENA on the sidelines of the preparatory meetings for the 12th OIC summit, İhsanoğlu said, “Egypt's presidency of the summit will be of paramount importance.”
He added, “Undoubtedly, [Egypt] has considerable experience and capacities for it is home to Al-Azhar, and with its long-standing legacy, Egypt has contributed to the building of Islamic civilization, which bestows it with a special status.”
At least 26 countries will be participating in the summit.