France’s cartoon diplomacy

Source: AFP Published: 2020/11/9 16:38:41

FM reaches out to Islamic world with olive branch respect

Activists and supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan take part in an anti-France demonstration in Lahore, Pakistan on Thursday, amid a wave of demonstrations in Muslim countries over French President Emmanuel Macron's defense of the right to publish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Photo: AFP

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian was in Egypt Sunday where he sought to ease tensions with the Arab world, after the furor surrounding the republication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Le Drian met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Egypt's highest Muslim authority, speaking of his country's "deep respect" for Islam.

Le Drian's highly anticipated meeting with Tayeb, head of Al-Azhar - considered the foremost religious institution for Sunni Muslims - tackled French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo's decision to reprint the cartoons.

In October, Tayeb denounced remarks by French President Emmanuel Macron about "Islamist separatism" as "racist" and spreading "hate speech."

Macron's remarks followed a suspected Islamist extremist decapitating a schoolteacher in a Paris suburb in October after he showed the cartoons to pupils during a lesson on freedom of expression. 

Tayeb's position was unmoved on Sunday as he reiterated his defense of Islam's sacredness. Depictions of the Prophet are strictly forbidden in Islam.

"Insulting our Prophet is completely unacceptable and we will pursue anyone who disrespects our honorable Prophet in international courts, even if we spend the rest of our lives on this matter only," he forcefully said in a statement released by Al-Azhar.

Sent to defuse tensions, Le Drian sought to convey an emollient message following the meeting.

"I noted many points of convergence in our respective analysis," he told reporters. "The Grand Imam proposed we work together toward a common convergence... because together we must fight fanaticism."

In a press conference alongside Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry earlier on Sunday, Le Drian had likewise struck a conciliatory tone.

"I have emphasized, and emphasize here the deep respect we have for Islam," said the French minister.

"What we are fighting is terrorism, it is the hijacking of religion, it is extremism," he added, noting that he came "to explain, if need be, this fight, and at the same time the fight for respect for the freedom of belief."

Demonstrations erupted in several Muslim-majority countries after Macron defended the right to publish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, seen by many as insulting and an attack on Islam.

Sisi himself had weighed in on the controversy in October, saying that "to insult the prophets amounts to underestimating the religious beliefs of many people."

Le Drian's visit also included discussion on Egypt's conflict-hit western neighbor Libya.



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