CAIRO — Egypt severed its remaining diplomatic ties with Iran on Thursday because of what authorities said were Iranian links to Muslim extremist groups plotting to assassinate Egyptian officials.
A Foreign Ministry announcement said the two diplomats at the Iranian interests section in Cairo are being expelled for activities incompatible with diplomatic norms. It said the lone Egyptian diplomat in Cairo's diplomatic interests section in Tehran is being recalled.
Egypt and Iran have had no formal diplomatic ties since 1979, when relations were severed by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to protest Egypt's signing of a peace treaty with Israel in March of that year. Relations have since been strained by Egypt's support of Iraq in its war with Iran.
Egypt and Iran continued, however, to maintain diplomatic interests sections, Egypt's in the French Embassy in Tehran and Iran's in the Swiss Embassy in Cairo.
The Foreign Ministry statement did not specify why the two Iranians were being expelled, except to say that their activities had been "incompatible with their diplomatic status," a phrase usually understood to be a euphemism for spying.
Underground Ties Suspected
Security sources said the Iranians were suspected of having ties with underground Muslim extremist organizations plotting to assassinate Egyptian officials.
More than three dozen suspected Muslim extremists have been arrested in the past several days after an attempt last week on the life of former Interior Minister Hassan abu Basha, who was shot several times in front of his home here by a bearded assailant firing a submachine gun.
It was not clear if the order to expel the Iranians was related directly to the assassination attempt or the subsequent arrests. But security sources said the recommendation to expel the two diplomats came from the Interior Ministry, which is investigating the Abu Basha shooting.
Neither Mahmoud Mohtadi, the senior Iranian representative in Cairo, nor a diplomat said to be his deputy was available for comment. They have been given seven days to leave the country, the Foreign Ministry said.
The Egyptian action came six weeks after Tunisia broke diplomatic relations with Iran, accusing it of fomenting "ideological and religious subversion." Tunisian authorities said they had uncovered an Iranian-backed extremist network whose objective was to "overthrow the government and replace it with a theocratic state."
Like Tunisia, Egypt has seen a resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism whose followers advocate the formation of a theocratic state based on the Sharia, the Islamic code of law.
Brotherhood Wins 35 Seats
Last month, the Muslim Brotherhood, which represents the moderate wing of the fundamentalist movement in Egypt, became the major political opposition by winning 35 seats in the new Egyptian Parliament in alliance with the conservative Socialist Labor Party.
Although the Brotherhood has renounced violence as a means of achieving its aims and has rejected as a failure the Iranian model of an Islamic state, there are other groups in Egypt with more radical views. They draw their support from among disaffected university students and poorly paid army recruits and junior officers.
Foremost among the underground groups is Islamic Jihad, whose members assassinated President Anwar Sadat in 1981. According to Egyptian newspapers, this group may be responsible for the attempt on Abu Basha's life.
Abu Basha was interior minister from 1982 to 1984, a period that spanned the trial and execution of Sadat's assassins and the arrest of a number of other Muslim extremists.