To clarify the meaning of the statements, the nation recalled its Holy See ambassador to Cairo.
Then, on Jan. 20, the Al-Azhar institute issued a press release in which they announced the suspension of theological dialogue with the Vatican. They said the Vatican had interfered in the nation's affairs.
The president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran told L'Osservatore Romano on Jan. 29 that the Vatican delegation expected all future appointments to be kept.
“If we want progress in dialogue,” he added, “we must first of all find the time to sit down and talk person-to-person and not through the newspapers.”
Days before the meetings were set to take place, on Feb. 20, he told the French agency I.Media, “we don't have any news from our friends.”
The government announced that their ambassador would return to Rome at mid-week, but there was still no official word from Al-Azhar.
Feb. 23 - 24 came and went with no statement about the talks. Incidentally, an official from Al-Azhar and the institute's former spokesman were in Rome to participate in a forum sponsored by the Catholic Church's Sant'Egidio Community.
Away from the microphones at the event, the two made separate statements to media on their thoughts on how dialogue can continue.
In a report from Italy's ASCA news agency, the special representative of the Grand Imam of Azhar, Hasan Shafie, said that for the dialogue to be reopened the Pope must apologize for his words on Islam and Muslims in his now famous address at Regensburg, Germany in 2006.
The speech provoked furor among some Muslim leaders after some phrases were taken out of context and reproduced in misleading mass media reports.
The Pope quoted a 14th-century Christian emperor who approached a Persian thinker to get a better understanding of Islam. The emperor asked, “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”
The Pope used the quote to illustrate that a greater understanding is needed between faiths through dialogue, explained the Vatican's spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi after Muslim leaders expressed outrage at the quote.
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Fr. Lombardi explained that the Pope respects Islam and wants to “cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward the other religions and cultures, obviously also toward Islam.”
After the miscommunication with the Egyptian government in January, Fr. Lombardi again stepped in to say that “an attentive reading” of the Pope's words on religious freedom would help to dispel this latest the round of “misunderstandings.”
According to ASCA, on Feb. 23, Shafie called this response “another insult” because it assumed they did not understand it well the first time around.
Muhammad Rifaa Al-Tahtawi, Al-Azhar's spokesman until just recently, was also at the Sant'Egidio meeting. He said Muslims need to see a “show of respect” from the Vatican.
According to the National Catholic Register, al-Tahtawi said the Vatican's response to Regensburg was “not acceptable.”
Asked why they have not been able to forgive the Pope, despite his efforts rectify the situation, Al-Tahtawi said, “It's not a question of forgiveness.