CAIRO - Although the head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Shenouda, said late Sunday he regretted that Muslims were offended by comments of a senior cleric, which allegedly questioned the authenticity of some verses of the Holy Qur'an, a senior member of Egypt's Islamic Research Centre pointed the finger at Shenouda, claiming the Pope was fuelling sedition.
"Shenouda himself has been clearly fuelling sedition since 1948; he made similar statements in his book Christianity and Qur'an to those of Bishop Bishoy”, said Mohamed Emara, a Muslim scholar.
Emara told the Qatari news TV Al-Jazeera that one of Shenounda's plans since he became the head of the Coptic Church in Egypt was to create controversy.
"He (Shenouda) incites sedition," claimed Emara,who is also an Al-Azhar professor, arguing that Bishoy's comments show that it was not a slip of the tongue, "but a well-established opinion among Coptic leaders". Shenouda apologised for the remarks made last Wednesday by Bishoy, the Secretary of the Coptic Church's Holy Synod, in which he cast doubt on the authenticity of some verses in the Qur'an, claiming that some verses were inserted after the death of Prophet Mohamed.
"I'm very sorry that the feelings of our Muslim brothers have been hurt," Shenouda told Egyptian television in an interview.
Although Bishoy declared on Sunday that his remarks were misunderstood, they sparked outrage among both Christian and Muslim leaders, who voiced their fear that the controversial remarks could lead to tensions.
"Religious dialogue must be limited to common points; dialogue must be for the good of the country," Shenouda said.
"We should never discuss theological differences. The simple fact of bringing up the subject was inappropriate, and escalating the matter is wrong," he said.
On Saturday, Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's top religious institution, slammed Bishoy's comments. "This kind of behaviour is irresponsible and threatens national unity at a time when it is vital to protect it," Al-Azhar's Grand Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayyeb said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Press Council, headed by the Chairman of the Shura Council Safwat el-Sherif, called on local media to heed Egypt's interests when publishing or broadcasting “sensitive” issues, which might jeopardise national unity.
"When tackling certain news, the national interests of Egypt and Egyptians have to be kept in mind," the Council said Monday in a statement and vowing to take “all needed legal measures to protect national unity”.
In his TV interview, Shenouda also called on the media people to consider national interests while writing about certain issues.
Simmering tensions occasionally flare up into violent clashes between Egypt’s Muslims and Christians.
Coptic Christians make up around ten per cent of Egypt’s 80 million population and complain about alleged systematic marginalisation and discrimination.