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Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's planned visit to Iran is a positive sign of the two countries' willingness to renew their ties, which were severed more than 30 years ago.
The trip could reshape the Middle East political landscape, but it will take some time to assess the effect of the visit, experts said.
The Egyptian official MENA news agency reported on Saturday that Morsi will attend the Non-Aligned Movement Summit to be held in the Iranian capital Teheran later this month - the first such visit by an Egyptian head of state to Teheran since the Islamic revolution in 1979.
Under Morsi's predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, who is a Sunni Muslim, sided with Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-dominated Arab states in trying to isolate Shiite-led Iran.
In a visit to Cairo earlier this month, Iranian Vice-President Hamed Baqai delivered an invitation to the summit to Morsi, hoping he would participate in the event from Aug 30 to 31. At the summit, Egypt will hand over the movement's rotating chairmanship to Iran. Participants of the summit are expected to discuss a number of political and economic issues, as well as the latest regional and international developments.
The trip shows the readjustment of Egypt's foreign policy through more contact with Teheran after the Muslim Brotherhood won the presidential election in May, according to Zhang Xiaodong, an expert on Middle East studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"And the Iran leader also sees the opportunity to improve its external environment out of the change (in Egypt)," he said.
The two countries have not had full diplomatic relations since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, when Iran cut ties after Egypt gave asylum to the deposed Iranian shah in Cairo and made peace with Israel.
Morsi's visit could mark a thaw between the two countries after years of enmity.
An announcement of the trip came days after Morsi included Iran, which has strong ties with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in a proposal for a contact group to mediate an end to Syria's escalating civil war. The proposal for the group, which includes Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, was made at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca.
In another contact between Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr and his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi on the sidelines of the Extraordinary Islamic Summit Ministerial Meeting held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Aug 13, the Egyptian official also urged Iran to assist in solving the Syrian crisis, according to the website of Egypt's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Zhang said the two countries are expected to exchange ideas about Syria, but he doubts any concrete achievements as the contact between Egypt and Iran is still at an early stage.
But analysts believe it will bring Egypt back to the regional political stage.
The visit is in line with popular sentiment. Since Mubarak was outed in an uprising last year, there has been a push for Cairo to craft a foreign policy independent of Western or oil Gulf countries' agendas.
"This really signals the first response to a popular demand and a way to increase the margin of maneuver for Egyptian foreign policy in the region," political scientist Mustafa Kamel el-Sayyed told AP. "Morsi's visits ... show that Egypt's foreign policy is active again in the region."
"This is a way also to tell Gulf countries that Egypt is not going to simply abide by their wishes and accept an inferior position," he added.
But the policy toward Iran will not represent a radical shift in the young government's foreign policy, Zhang said.
"As Morsi just became the country's first elected president and the current domestic situation is not stable, what he needs is to be cautious and take prudent measures," Zhang added.
Xinhua and AP contributed to this story.
(China Daily 08/20/2012 page12)