Wrong Translation Accused of Freezing Vatican, Egyptian Muslim Dialogue

International Arabic News Network, Al-Jazeera, has been accused of distorting the pope's words in his Jan. 10 speech that prompted top Islamic authority to freeze its dialogue with the Vatican.

"The Pope calls on Western governments to defend the Christians in the Middle East" was the Arabic translation displayed in the broadcast report.

Father Rafic Greich, a spokesman for the Coptic Catholic Church, claims that the translation was a deliberate misinterpretation making it seem as if Benedict XVI had requested Western government powers to protect Christians, AsiaNews reported on Tuesday.

The incident was an attempt to "sow confusion and stir relations between Egypt, and in particular Al Azhar, and the Catholic Church," says Greich, explaining that the pope only asked local governments to protect Christian minorities from discrimination, abuse and religious intolerance.

However, silence between the two religious bodies remain despite attempts by Cardinal Antonios Naguib, head of the Assembly of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of Egypt, to publicly clarify the true meaning of the pope's words.

El-Azab, head of the dialogue center at Al-Azhar, stated that talks with the Vatican would not resume until the "aggressive West stops giving statements and dictating practices and policy to Islamic countries without considering these countries cultural diversity, privacy and national identity," reported Egyptian News website Ahram Online.

The president of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, announced the freeze Jan. 20 following an address by the pope condemning the violence and discrimination Christian minorities face in predominately Muslim countries.

Remarks by Benedict XVI were deemed as an "unacceptable interference in Egypt's affairs" by Ambassador Hossam Zaki, the official spokesman of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, who accused him of disregarding "the violence faced by Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Despite the rift, the Vatican remains hopeful al-Azhar will still attend the famous religious peace summit to be held in Assisi in October.

It will be the 25th anniversary of a similar meeting called by Pope John Paul II, gathering world religious representatives to discuss how they can promote world peace.