President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became on Tuesday the first Iranian head of state since the 1979 revolution to pay an official visit to Egypt — a step which could become a game changer in defining the region’s power hierarchy.

Iran’s English language Press TV reported, quoting an official from the Presidential office that Mr. Ahmadinejad was participating in the OIC meeting as the current chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) — a grouping of more than hundred countries.

At al-Azhar

Significantly, the Iranian President is slated to meet the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar Ahmed al-Tayeb. Analysts view this meeting as part of an effort by Iran and Egypt to heal the rift between the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam, exacerbated by the crises in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

Before his plane touched down in Cairo, Mr. Ahmadinejad advocated unity among Sunnis and Shias. In an interview with Lebanese satellite channel al- Mayadeen, Mr. Ahmadinejad slammed the Sunni-Shia rift as a “colonial plot”. He also pledged to provide security cover to Egypt and Saudi Arabia against any attack, similar to the support that Tehran has provided to Afghanistan and Iraq.

According to Iranian media reports, Mr. Ahmadinejad could hold talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during his three-day stay. Ahead of his arrival, the Iranian President said that Iran and Egypt should work together to “liberate Palestine entirely”.

Mojtaba Amani, head of Iran’s interest section in Egypt said on Sunday that Tehran is willing to hold consultations with Cairo for reaching a political settlement of the Syrian crisis.

“Syria is a common topic of discussions between Tehran and Cairo; no date has been fixed for a trilateral or quadrilateral meeting on Syria, but Iran is committed to continue consultations with Cairo based on Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy’s initiative for resolving the Syrian crisis,” said Mr. Amani as quoted by Iran’s Fars News Agency.

Egypt had earlier initiated the formation of a regional contact group on Syria that included Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to find a political solution the Syrian crisis. Mr. Morsy has also vowed to support more than 100,000 Syrian refugees in every possible way till the time they can return home “with dignity”.