French and German diplomatic missions in Egypt will be shut on Friday as a precaution against any violent protests that may occur against a recent film and cartoons mocking Prophet Mohamed.
French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday published a series of cartoons denigrating Islam's prophet, prompting the French foreign ministry to close its diplomatic missions in 20 countries in anticipation of angry public responses.
The German embassy in Cairo is also taking precautions following a national debate in Germany on whether to allow public screenings of the now-infamous short film 'The Innocence of Muslims.'
The film, deemed highly offensive to Muslims, prompted strong reactions against the US – where the film was produced – across the Middle East, including the killing of the US ambassador to Libya and three of his staff.
Germany's far-right Pro-Deutschland movement, which has previously staged a series of anti-Islam rallies, has insisted on screening the film, sparking debate among Germany's top officials on whether to ban it or not.
According to German news agency DPA, Germany's foreign ministry has decided to close its Middle East embassies on Friday, saying that its diplomats had been instructed to stay home that day.
In an apparent reaction to perceived Western hatred of Islam, Germany's embassy in Sudan was set ablaze earlier this week by anti-film protesters. Sudanese demonstrators also converged on the nearby British embassy.
The embassy closure, said DPA, could be extended indefinitely depending on developments. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle is reportedly mulling means of stepping up security in and around German institutions in Egypt.
The French embassy in Cairo, meanwhile, remains surrounded by police trucks after sending a request to Egyptian authorities for stepped-up security outside French establishments.
Embassy officials have said that its doors would remain open to French nationals in case of emergency. All French schools and cultural centres will also be closed until Sunday, barring unexpected developments.
Abdel-Moneim Abdel-Maqsoud, meanwhile, a lawyer for Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, announced the formation on Thursday of a French-Egyptian legal team tasked with taking legal action against Charlie Hebdo.
Abdel-Maqsoud said in a statement that the cartoon was in "clear violation" of international customs and human rights treaties, which criminalise the abuse of religious figures and holy sites.
The cartoon, Abdel-Maqsoud asserted, is in "gross violation of the values of free speech and expression," since such values are based on respect for the freedoms of others, upon which the offensive cartoons trespassed.
It appears that the Brotherhood lawyer had taken the advice of the French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who on Wednesday advised those offended by the cartoon to resort to judicial channels.
"If people really feel offended in their beliefs and think there has been an infringement of the law – and we are in a state where laws must be totally respected – they can go to court," Ayrault stated on RTL radio.
Yet the French prime minister also showed his opposition to banning such works as were published in the weekly magazine, going so far as to voice his intention to ban all demonstrations against the film, stressing the importance of "freedom of expression," AFP reported.
Head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party Essam El-Erian, for his part, said the French judiciary should act in the same way it did recently when another French magazine published topless photos of Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton.
El-Erian told Reuters: "If Kate's case is a matter of privacy, then the cartoons are an insult to a whole people. The beliefs of others must be respected."
A French court recently ordered Closer magazine to hand over its photos of Middleton, vowing to slap the publication with a hefty fine if it published any of the topless pictures in the future.
Despite widespread fears of embassy-directed violence, two of Egypt's prominent Salafist groups – the Salafist Front and Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya – have declared, according to the state press, that they would not take part in any demonstrations at the French embassy.
Egypt's main Islamist parties, the Salafist Nour Party and the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, for their part, have not issued any calls for embassy protests.
Both groups had previously condemned violent protests against the anti-Islam film, stressing Egypt's obligation to protect foreign missions and diplomats, while strongly condemning the sacrilegious movie.
While the Nour Party has not commented on the French cartoons, the FJP issued a statement condemning the offensive images and demanding that the French government take action against Charlie Hebdo.
The FJP further noted the suspicious timing of the cartoon, released "only days after the American film," posing the question: "Does this mean that invisible hands are making the Western world provoke Arab and Muslim nations, which have begun to free themselves of corrupt and tyrannical regimes?"
The Muslim Brotherhood is holding a conference on Thursday under the banner "Together to Grant Victory to the Prophet," at which the group's leader, Mohamed Badie, is expected to speak.
The event, jointly organised by the Egyptian Doctors Syndicate and the Journalist Syndicate's freedoms committee, will host a line-up of public figures, including Islamist intellectual Mohamed Emara and Coptic-Christian Bishop of Helwan and Maasara Anba Basanti.