French insult to Prophet Muhammad draws little protest in Cairo, elsewhere

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 21, 2012 

— One week after violence swept across much of the Middle East over a YouTube video extremists blamed on the United States, there were only subdued demonstrations against France over cartoons published in a French magazine insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

In Lebanon, thousands of Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslim supporters of Hezbollah held a peaceful protest against anti-Islam movements. In Egypt, where thousands set off the worldwide protests by stomring the U.S. Embassy compound Sept. 11, scores of protesters, outnumbered by the police, gathered at the French embassy in Giza Friday and demanded an international law criminalizing insulting religions and prophets.

In Alexandria, the demonstrators in front of the French consulate could be counted in the dozens, though they did, according to Egyptian state radio, burn a French flag.

In Cairo, protesters wearing beards of ultra conservative Islamists and dressed in white robs raised black Islamic flags as they marched toward the French embassy. Police blocked roads leading to the building.

“Insulting the prophet is a red line. Religions should be respected,” said Attef Taj el Din, 40, a graphic designer, while carrying a banner that read: “A question to all rational people: Why insult the prophet? What about talking about the Jews holocaust? Is it a red line?”

But unlike last week's protests, in which went on for days and left dozens injured, the crowds Friday dispersed in a few hours. By nightfall, the police appeared bored sitting on the curb awaiting crowds that never appeared.

Some of those who did arrive seemed to be gathering in protest of the United States, not France.

“Who are the ones who started World War I, World War II and killed the American Indians? Who are the radicals? Us or the crusaders?” asked Walid Mahrous, 30, a ceramic worker, offering an odd take on history.

Unlike last week, no group called for Friday’s protests. The Muslim Brotherhood, which had urged last week’s protest before attempting to cancel it at the last minute, issued a statement Wednesday strongly condemning the caricatures published in the French magazine Charlie Heddo. But the group did not urge supporters to take the streets.

“Are there hidden hands manipulating the West to provoke Arab and Muslim peoples who have just begun winning their freedoms from corrupt, authoritarian regimes?” the Brotherhood asked in a statement.

Ismail is a McClatchy special correspondent. Email: egypt@mcclatchydc.com

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