Egypt recalls diplomat over pope's comments on Coptic church attack
Egypt on Tuesday recalled its ambassador to the Vatican over "interfering" comments made by Pope Benedict XVI following the bombing of a Christian Coptic church in Alexandria, dpa reported.
"Egypt considers the latest statement by the Vatican to be an unacceptable interference in its domestic affairs," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Ambassador Lamia Mekheimar was asked to return to Cairo for "consultations," according to the statement. It was not clear how long the ambassador would remain in Egypt upon her return.
The attack in Alexandria during a mass on New Year's Eve killed 23 people and injured around 100. It prompted Benedict to reiterate a call on governments in majority Muslim countries to increase efforts to protect their Christian populations.
"This succession of attacks is yet another sign of the urgent need for the governments of the region to adopt, in spite of difficulties and dangers, effective measures for the protection of religious minorities," the pontiff said on Monday, referring to the Alexandria attack and to violence against Christians in Iraq.
Benedict made the remarks during his annual address to foreign diplomats at the Vatican.
He went on to say that "the right to religious freedom is not fully respected when only freedom of worship is guaranteed, and that with restrictions."
Other remarks by the pontiff earlier this month condemning the Alexandria attack also drew criticism from Egypt's top Muslim cleric, Ahmed Al-Tayeb of al-Azhar University - one of Sunni Islam's oldest institutions.
The pontiff's comments were an "unacceptable interference in Egypt's affairs," Al-Tayeb said.
The Vatican's embassy in Cairo subsequently issued a statement saying that Benedict's comments should not be seen as "interference in Egypt's internal affairs," but rather a call for individuals and political leaders to respect all religions and encourage peaceful coexistence, according to the Egyptian newspaper al-Masry al-Youm.
Egyptian authorities have described the Alexandria attack as an act of terrorism and have rejected allegations that Coptic Christians are persecuted in Egypt.
Official figures estimate that Christians comprise between 10 and 15 per cent of Egypt's population.
The Alexandria bombing sparked daily protests throughout the country, with a number of Muslim and Christian demonstrators injured in clashes with police.