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First batch of Iranian tourists arrives in Egypt

The first commercial flight to visit Egypt from Iran in 34 years took off on March 30th, as the two nations hope to promote cross-border tourism.

iran tourists pyramidsEnlarge
The Pyramids of Giza are one of the attractions the first batch of Iranian tourists to Egypt in decades will visit. (Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)

Egyptian—Iranian relations continued to take a warmer turn on March 31, when fifty ty Iranian tourists visited famous tourist sites in Egypt on March 31, although their movements were restricted as Shiite Muslims, as opposed to overwhelmingly Sunni Egypt, noted the Associated Press.

The visit came only a day after Iranian representatives, flying a private Air Memphis jet on March 30th, returned to Tehran from Cairo.

Officials have been in talks with Egypt since February about increasing tourism ties between the two nations, which severed ties with one another during the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution.

Read more from GlobalPost: Egypt and Iran resume direct flights for first time in 34 years

Some ultraconservative Egyptian Muslims opposed the notion of allowing Iranians to visit Egypt, noted the Associated Press, although Egyptian Tourism Minister Hesham Zaazoua was quick to dispel the rumors.

"We have not received Iranians for 35 years,"  said Zaazoua. "They are pure tourists. They are not coming to create a revolution as far as I am concerned."

"They are coming to visit tourist sites within Egypt," he said. "They are coming for vacationing."

Iranian tourists will still be barred from visiting historic mosques in Cairo, notes the Egypt Independent, a move that Dostour Party head Mohamed ElBaradei criticized on Twitter.

 “How come we, Sunnis and Shias, perform pilgrimage together yet we talk about preventing Iranians from visiting some of the houses of God?” wrote ElBaradei.

“Egypt will not get back on its feet in the absence of sensibility and inability to accept the other," he added.

Ahram Online notes that Egypt and Iran signed a March Memorandum of Understanding, which will promote cooperation between the two specifically in the tourist sector.

Egypt is especially reliant on tourism dollars, and has suffered from a decline in tourism since the widely-publicized 2011 ouster of Hosni Mubarak.

For Iran's part, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad signed a draft law that will allow Egyptians to enter Iran without a visa, wrote Al Arabiaya, although a representative from the Ministry of Tourism stressed there was no link between the two developments.

Ahmadinejad paid a visit to Cairo in February and was welcomed by Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi — the first such visit between heads of state since the 1979 rift.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/iran/130401/first-batch-iranian-tourists-arrives-egypt