World News

Egypt condemns Vatican criticism on minorities

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt dismissed Pope Benedict’s call for more protection of Christian minorities as “unacceptable interference” Tuesday as it summoned its Vatican ambassador back to Cairo for consultation.

The head of the Roman Catholic Church Monday condemned attacks on churches that killed dozens of people in Egypt, Iraq and Nigeria, saying they showed the need to adopt effective measures to protect religious minorities.

“Egypt asked its ambassador in the Vatican to come to Cairo for consultation after the Vatican’s new statements that touch on Egyptian affairs and which Egypt considers an unacceptable interference in its internal affairs,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said in a statement sent to Reuters.

“Cairo is keen to communicate with the Vatican after its statements following the terrorist incident in Alexandria that took place earlier this month.”

A New Year bombing outside a church in the Egyptian city of Alexandria left 23 people dead and dozens injured and prompted demonstrations by both Christians and Muslims.

Egyptian officials insist they are capable of protecting all citizens and said there are indications that “foreign elements” were behind the January 1 blast. An Iraqi group linked to al Qaeda threatened in November to attack Egyptian Christians.

A spokesman for Egypt’s highest Islamic authority al-Azhar, Mohamed Rafah el-Tahtawi, said it appreciated Pope Benedict’s call for protection of Christian minorities in Middle Eastern countries but added: “We consider the protection of Christians an internal affair that their governments should handle.”

Christians, mostly Orthodox Copts, account for about 10 percent of Egypt’s 79 million population which is mostly Sunni Muslim. Sectarian violence sometimes erupts over disputes on issues related to church building, religious conversions and interfaith relationships.

Early last year, a drive-by shooting killed six Christians and a Muslim policeman at a church in southern Egypt.

Reporting by Marwa Awad; Writing by Yasmine Saleh; Editing by Jason Neely