Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt veered off course earlier today when a protester, reportedly a Syrian angered by Ahmadinejad’s support for the Assad regime, attempted to strike him with a shoe. Though he took multiple swings, the protester appears to have missed, striking Ahmadinejad’s bodyguard instead.
Striking somebody with the sole of one’s shoe is a sign of disrespect in Arab countries. In 2008, an Iraqi journalist infamously hurled both of his shoes at former president George W. Bush at a press conference in Baghdad.
According to the New York Times, Ahmadinejad also encountered some unpleasantness prior to this incident:
Earlier in the day, Mr. Ahmadinejad was apparently harangued during his meeting with Grand Sheik Ahmed al-Tayeb at Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s highest seat of learning. According to a statement released by Al-Azhar, Mr. Ahmadinejad was criticized for Iran’s role in what the cleric called the “spread of Shiism in Sunni lands.” The Sunni cleric also pressed the Shiite president to “not interfere in the affairs of Gulf states,” like Bahrain, where Iran is accused of lending support to protests against the ruling Sunni monarchy.
Ahmadinejad arrived in Cairo earlier today, marking the first visit by an Iranian leader to Egypt since the two nations severed diplomatic relations in the wake of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.