French missions in Egypt batten down hatches after new Prophet insults

Ahram Online , Wednesday 19 Sep 2012

Publication of offensive Prophet cartoons in French magazine throws French diplomatic missions in Egypt on defensive; Brotherhood, Al-Azhar condemn 'messages of hate'

French embassy
A man walks near riot police vehicles guarding outside the French embassy in Cairo (Photo: Reuters)

The French Foreign Ministry on Wednesday told AFP that it would temporarily close its missions in Egypt and in 19 other countries, in addition to stepping up the security presence around French diplomatic sites.

The ministry statement comes following the publication by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo of nude cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed on Wednesday.

The French embassy in Cairo, for its part, announced that it would close all its associated cultural centres and schools starting Thursday.

A statement by France's consul-general in Cairo, however, stressed that French consulates in Egypt would continue to serve French nationals in case of emergency.

France has five consulates in Egypt, in addition to its consulate-general in Cairo.

"The embassy has asked the relevant Egyptian authorities to strengthen security around its sites," the consul-general stated.

The French embassy is currently surrounded by trucks belonging to Egypt's Central Security Forces in anticipation of possible demonstrations and/or clashes.

According to the embassy statement, French schools and cultural centres will reopen on Sunday, barring unexpected developments.

The French Cultural Institute in downtown Cairo has cancelled all scheduled events until Sunday, according to the embassy's official website.

Wednesday afternoon saw a stepped-up security presence, with trucks belonging to Egypt's Central Security Forces parked outside the French embassy gates. Embassy premises, meanwhile, were cordoned off from the public.

Wednesday's events follow a wave of protests that erupted last week across the Muslim world over a short film mocking Islam and the Prophet Mohammed.

Large scale protests were seen in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Sudan, along with several other countries.

Protests in Libya were accompanied by the death of US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, along with four of his staff, on 12 September.

Brotherhood, Al-Azhar reactions

The cartoons published by the French weekly have already met condemnation in Egypt, especially from Islamist political parties.

Head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party Essam El-Erian said the French judiciary should act in the same way it did recently with another French magazine's publication of topless photos of Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton.

"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," El-Erian told Reuters.

Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud El-Ghozlan said the French government should respond to the case in the same way it does with scholars and researchers who question the official narrative of the holocaust.

"The French government will imprison anyone who denies the holocaust, yet if the Prophet Mohammed – or any other religious figure – is insulted, the maximum penalty you can expect is a verbal apology," asserted Ghozlan.  

El-Erian, for his part, said that, while peaceful protest should be permitted, acts of violence must be avoided at all costs.

Egypt's Al-Azhar, meanwhile, the highest religious authority in the Sunni-Muslim world, issued a statement on Wednesday condemning the cartoons.

Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar, rejected "these messages of hate," which, he said, "merely aim to instigate hate in the name of freedom."

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