As masses of Muslim protesters took to the streets on Thursday to protest the American low-budget film “Innocence of Muslims,” governments across the Middle East tried to juggle between containing the spreading violence and calling the public to action.
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi declared Thursday morning that Egypt is capable of defending diplomatic interests on its soil, a day after hundreds of angry protesters stormed the American embassy walls and replaced an American flag with the banner of Al-Qaeda.
The Middle East’s new Islamist leaders, from Gaza to Tunisia, seemed torn Thursday in their reactions to the controversial film, which portrays the Prophet Muhammad in an unflattering light, on the one hand championing active opposition to the film, and on the other, trying to contain the violence and keep it from spiraling out of control.
“Islamic holy symbols and the Prophet Muhammad are red lines for us Muslims,” Morsi said in a televised speech Thursday morning. “We Egyptians reject all forms of attacks or aggression directed at our Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. We will redeem him with all of our souls and hearts.”
Morsi also condemned the attack on the American embassy in Cairo, arguing that the protection of foreign representatives in Egypt is “at the heart of our religion.”
The Middle East’s new Islamist leaders, from Gaza to Tunisia, seemed torn Thursday in their reactions to “Innocence of Muslims.” on the one hand championing active opposition to the film and on the other trying to prevent the violence from getting out of hand
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood called on citizens to attend a mass protests on Friday, which the liberal April 6 movement said it would shun, instead proposing legal action against the producers of the film.
Ali Gomaa, Egypt’s grand mufti, stated his intention to turn to the United Nations secretary general with a demand to draft an international agreement that will criminalize verbal abuse of religions, Egyptian media reported.
In Gaza, Hamas’s ministry of endowments organized a quiet protest together with the Association of Palestinian clerics. Demonstrators carried signs reading “anything but the Prophet” and “we will all redeem you, O beloved of God.”
The Hamas government issued an official condemnation of the film, calling on the US to prosecute its producers, and urged the Arab League and Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to take a “strong stand” and sue the producers for “harming all of humanity” in its denigration of the Prophet Muhammad.
Meanwhile, Arab commentators heatedly discussed the repercussions of the film.
The firebrand editor of London’s Arab nationalist daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Abd Al-Bari Atwan, regraded the violence as further proof of the level of hatred toward the US in the Arab and Muslim world, despite its ostensible support of Arab revolutions.
“Those who stormed the American embassies in Cairo and Benghazi did not do that when a Norwegian cartoonist offended the Prophet Muhammad. Their counterparts carried out protests across the Norwegian and Danish embassies,” Atwan wrote Thursday.
Zoheir Quseibati, a columnist with liberal daily Al-Hayat, claimed that the film was released in order to incite Egyptian Muslims against their Christian compatriots. He argued that the film was an attempt to achieve “what the loyalists of the previous regime had failed to do.”
But Tareq Homayed, editor of the Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat, could not understand what the fuss was about.
“Does it make sense for the world to go up in flames every time some silly person offends the Islamic faith or one of its symbols?” he asked in a column Thursday.
“Why should the American administration apologize for a film produced by an imbecile, or an ignorant group, and not by the American administration? Would it be reasonable for the Obama administration to ask the Egyptian government or people to apologize for the fact that Ayman Zawahiri, the current leader of al-Qaeda, is Egyptian? This is unreasonable and unacceptable.”