— Members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation
are holding a summit in Cairo. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on the first visit to Egypt by a leader of the Islamic Republic, is among those taking part. Historically, the OIC has been tepid on political issues, but in a time of sweeping change within its member states, some hope the forum will grow more dynamic.
Leaders from across the Muslim world gathered for the two-day summit in Cairo, with the conflicts in Syria and Mali taking center stage.
Egypt has taken over the rotating chairmanship of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and Islamist President Mohamed Morsi laid out the group's challenges - including what he called Islamophobia and extremism, even as he is under attack by opponents at home.
Summit participants called for a negotiated solution to the conflict in Syria. The OIC suspended Syria's government last year.
Iran's foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, downplayed Tehran's position as one of the Assad government's few backers.
"I'm optimistic that a solution to the crisis can be found, a Syrian-Syrian solution, a peaceful solution due to the initiative of his Excellency President Morsi," he said.
France's military operation against Islamist militants in Mali was a source of division too. The effort was praised by Senegal. But Morsi has condemned it.
Amid protests in Tunis after the murder of an opposition leader there, Tunisia's president cancelled plans to attend the conference, a reminder of the instability across the region.
The conference is giving Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a chance to build ties between his Shi'ite-led nation and Sunni-majority Egypt.He's the first leader of the Islamic Republic to visit Egypt. The countries broke relations in 1980 over Iran's revolution, and Egypt's recognition of Israel.
But while Ahmadinejad stressed the importance of an Egyptian-Iranian alliance, sectarian differences were on display during his visit to Al Azhar, a seat of Sunni learning. Clerics there accused Iran of interference by spreading Shi'ite belief.
Political analyst Said Sadek says Iran feels on the defensive.
"I think one of the things they understand that the West wants is that the Arab Spring turns into a sea of Sunni regimes against Iran. So, they want to get from Egypt any symbolic blessing or cooling down of attacks against Shi'a, but this is very difficult," he said.
Underscoring the tensions, on the first day of Ahmadinejad's trip, a protester tried to hit him with a shoe.
Leaders of nations taking part in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation's two-day summit, which brings together leaders from across the Muslim world, pose for a group photograph in Cairo, February 6, 2013.
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi listens to his Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr during the opening of the 12th summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Cairo, Egypt, February 6, 2013.
Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, surrounded by security and members of his delegation at the 12th summit of the OIC, February 6, 2013.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi greets Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad before the opening OIC summit in Cairo, February 6, 2013.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai attends the Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit in Cairo, February 6, 2013.
Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi (2nd R) talks with other attendees before the start of the OIC summit in Cairo February 6, 2013.
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attends the OIC summit in Cairo, February 6, 2013.
A man holds a sign in Arabic reading, "(Ahmedinejad) You are not welcome in Egypt", in front of the al-Azhar mosque during Ahmedinejad's visit in Cairo, February 5, 2013.
Photographers take pictures of Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) before the start of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit in Cairo, February 6, 2013.
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi participate in an arrival ceremony at the airport in Cairo, Egypt, February 5, 2013. (Egyptian Presidency Handout)