Protesters destroy an American flag pulled down from the U.S. embassy in Cairo (Photo: Reuters)
A short film that critics say defames Islam – produced by a US-Israeli filmmaker – provoked anger among many Egyptian political figures on Wednesday, while others criticised what they saw as excessive reactions on the part of some local actors.
"This film only aims to ignite sectarian tensions under the guise of freedom of expression," former Arab League head and one-time presidential candidate Amr Moussa said in a Wednesday press statement.
Moussa went on to warn that such intentional insults against the Islamic faith "threaten the security and stability of nations."
On Tuesday night, thousands of Egyptian protesters converged on the US embassy in Cairo to protest the film, breaching the embassy grounds where they took down an American flag.
Meanwhile, an armed mob – also incensed by the film – attacked the US consulate in Benghazi, leaving the US ambassador to Libya and three consulate staff members dead.
Reform campaigner and Constitution Party co-founder Mohamed ElBaradei likewise condemned the film, declaring via Twitter that, "Humanity can only live in harmony when sacred beliefs and the prophets are respected."
Egypt's Democratic Front Party, for its part, criticised the North America based group Expatriate Copts, holding it responsible for the offensive film and accusing it of trying to stir strife between Muslims and Christians in Egypt.
The party went on to urge President Mohamed Morsi to postpone his scheduled US visit, slated for 24 September, to register Egypt's objection to the film.
Initially, the film was thought to have been made by US-based Coptic-Christian activists, but was later found to have been produced by US-Israeli dual-national filmmaker Sam Bacile.
The film was, however, promoted by Maurice Sadek, a controversial Coptic figure living in the US, along with Pastor Terry Jones, a firebrand American Christian preacher known for organising mass burnings of Muslim holy book the Quran.
Egypt's leftist Tagammu Party, meanwhile, asserted that the film "aims to realise the objectives of the Zionist movement and the US administration, which are perpetually promoting sectarian division in Egypt."
Some Egyptian political figures, however, voiced their disapproval of Tuesday's protests.
Prominent Egyptian activist Wael Ghoneim, for one, said the anti-film protests in Egypt and Libya – which, he noted, had coincided with the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington – would "only lead to more Islamophobia."
Ghoneim also criticised the manner in which the film – reportedly entitled 'Innocence of Muslims' – was distributed. "It was never screened in the US; it was only screened on Islamic YouTube channels," he said.
Tarek El-Zomor, spokesman for Egypt's Gamaa Islamiya movement, meanwhile, condemned Tuesday's protest at the US embassy in Cairo, denying that any Islamist groups – or their respective youth wings – had taken part in it.
El-Zomor went on to describe the removal of the embassy flag as "illegal and against Islamic Law," but praised the Cairo protest's peaceful nature.