Cairo: Egypt is recalling its Vatican envoy for consultations over remarks by Pope Benedict XVI on Coptic Christians seen as an "interference" in its affairs, the Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.
The action follows "new statements from the Vatican concerning Egypt which are considered by Egypt as unacceptable interference in its internal affairs," the ministry spokesman said in a statement.
The pontiff has expressed repeatedly his solidarity with the Copts and called on world leaders to protect them in the aftermath of a New Year`s Day church bombing that killed 21 people as worshippers emerged from midnight mass in Alexandria.
"Egypt will not allow any non-Egyptian faction to interfere in its internal affairs under any pretext," the statement said. "The Coptic question is specifically an internal Egyptian affair."
The Vatican declined to comment on Egypt`s decision
"I have nothing to say," spokesman Federico Lombardi said.
A day after the attack on the Al-Qiddissin (The Saints) church, the pope appealed for the "concrete and constant engagement of leaders of nations”, in what he termed a "difficult mission”.
At his New Year`s Day mass, Benedict underscored that "humanity cannot display resignation in the face of negative forces of selfishness and violence, it cannot get accustomed to conflicts which claim victims and endanger the future of people”.
On Sunday, Benedict again voiced solidarity with Egypt`s Copts -- two days after they marked their Christmas, celebrated on January 07.
"I salute the Coptic faithful present here to whom I renew my expression of closeness," the pope told thousands of people gathered in Saint Peter`s Square.
Then on Monday the pope said the attack was "yet another sign of the urgent need for the governments of the region to adopt... effective measures for the protection of religious minorities".
According to the Cairo statement, Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit wrote to his Vatican counterpart after the church bombing saying Cairo "objects to any foreign bid" to use the attack to promote efforts to protect Middle East Christians.
Benedict had already come under harsh criticism for speaking out for the Copts.
Egypt`s top Muslim cleric, Ahmed al-Tayeb, criticised the pope`s call on world leaders to defend the Copts.
"I disagree with the pope`s view, and I ask why did the pope not call for the protection of Muslims when they were subjected to killings in Iraq?" the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the oldest Islamic seat of learning and Sunni Muslim authority, told a news conference on January 02.
At the time, the Vatican stressed that the pontiff had shown solidarity with the Coptic community as well as concern for the consequences of the violence for the Christian and Muslim population.
"Therefore we cannot see how the pope`s approach to bring everybody to accept non-violence can be considered meddling," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said.
Lombardi said the Vatican referred to "an attack against a Christian church and therefore we are concerned about Christian minorities but that does not mean that we will justify or minimise violence against the faithful of other religions”.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the Alexandria church attack, which came after threats to Egypt`s Copts from the al Qaeda-linked group in Iraq that claimed an October 31 attack on a Baghdad cathedral.
President Hosni Mubarak has blamed "foreign hands" as being behind the incident.
Copts account for 10 percent of Egypt`s mostly Muslim population of 80,000 million, and are the largest Christian community in the Middle East.