Al-Azhar University spokesman Ambassador Mohammad Rifaa al-Tahtawi, confirmed earlier reports that the university suspended talks with the Vatican for an unspecified period of time. The decision came in response to Catholic Pope Benedict XVI’s statements about minority persecution in Egypt.
In statements to Sawt Al-Arab network on Friday, al-Tahtawi said that the decision is very clear, since interference in Egypt’s domestic politics is strictly rejected. In addition, Egypt’s Copts are protected as Egyptian citizens by the same laws that protect other Egyptian citizens, he said.
Al-Tahtawi added that Christians who lived in the East contributed to the building of civilization for 14 centuries during the time of Islamic conquests without needing protection. At that time, neither the United Nations nor great countries were there to protect the Christians.
Al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Council, headed by the institute’s sheikh and Dr. Ahmad al-Tayib, decided in an emergency meeting on Thursday to freeze interfaith dialogue with the Vatican.
Al-Azhar and the Vatican have a committee that meets twice a year to discuss matters relating to cooperation between the two.