Pope appoints Islam expert as new envoy to Egypt

Vatican City - Pope Benedict on Wednesday named a top Church expert in Islamic affairs to be the Vatican's new ambassador to Egypt and representative to the Cairo-based Arab League.

The new nuncio, as Vatican ambassadors are known, will be Archbishop Michael Louis Fitzgerald, until now president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, a statement said.

Fitzgerald, a 68-year-old Briton, has been in his post since 2002. He had been secretary, or number two, of the same department, since 1987.

As head of the inter-religious council, Fitzgerald has overseen the Vatican's relations with all non-Christians except Jews. But most of his work has involved relations with Muslims, a role which became more delicate after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 against the United States.

Earlier this month, Fitzgerald helped draft the Vatican's condemnation of the cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammad which have outraged the Muslim world.

The Vatican's statement at the time said freedom of speech did not mean freedom to offend a person's religion.

Fitzgerald, who speaks Arabic, has made many visits to Islamic countries and has lectured at Cairo's al-Azhar University, the historic centre of learning in Sunni Islam and a leading authority in the Muslim world.

He taught for years at the Pontifical Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies in Rome. He is a member of the Missionaries of Africa, also known as the White Fathers.

The Vatican did not immediately say who would replace Fitzgerald as head of the inter-religious dialogue department.