In Pakistan, tens of thousands of people protest after Friday prayers. In Beirut, hundreds tried to storm the French ambassador’s residence. Similar scenes were reported in Islamabad. Egypt’s Religious Affairs Minister is one of the few conciliatory voices.
Beirut (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Tens of thousands of Muslims, from Pakistan to Lebanon via the Palestinian Territories, took to the streets yesterday at the end of Friday prayers to protest against France and its president, Emmanuel Macron.
This represents the latest chapter in a confrontation over freedom of thought and the right to satire between the French leader and Islamic hard-line extremists and their political backers, first of all Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The conflict restarted after satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo republished its controversial Muhammad cartoons. The trail of blood left by their publication got longer recently with the beheading of history teacher Samuel Paty and the killing of three people at Nice cathedral on Thursday.
In Lebanon, hundreds of people took to the streets in Beirut, marching on the Palais des Pins, the official residence of the French ambassador.
Riot police and members of the security forces blocked the road and set up a perimeter around the diplomatic mission.
Waving black and white flags with Islamist insignia, Sunni Islamist activists shouted: “At your service, oh prophet of God.” Some slung stones at police who responded with tear gas.
In Jerusalem, hundreds of Palestinians protested against Macron outside Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, chanting “With our souls and with our blood we sacrifice for our prophet, Mohammad.”
Clashes broke out in Jerusalem’s Old City, resulting in some arrests. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas organised anti-French protests outside local mosques.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attacked the French president, calling Macron’s defence of the controversial cartoons a “stupid act” and an “insult” to those who voted for him.
In Pakistan‘s capital Islamabad, protests turned violent as some 2,000 people tried to march toward the French Embassy but were pushed back by police firing tear gas and beating protesters with batons. Several people were injured.
In Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore, some 10,000 followers of the radical Islamic Tehreek-e-Labbaik party celebrating the Mawlid, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, took to the streets, chanting anti-France slogans.
A local religious leader shouted “There is only punishment for blasphemy” and the crowd responded by shouting “beheading, beheading”. In Multan, demonstrators burnt Macron in effigy, calling on Pakistan to cut ties with France and boycott French goods.
Cries of “Death to France” rang out in Afghanistan‘s capital of Kabul and several other provinces. Protesters called for the French embassy to be shut down, French imports be stopped and French citizens not allowed into the country.
One of the few conciliatory voices came from Egypt where the Religious Affairs Minister, in a sermon broadcast yesterday on state television, denounced all forms of violent response to the publication of the Muhammed cartoons.
“Love of the prophet cannot be expressed by killing, sabotaging or responding to evil with evil,” said Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa, addressing dozens of worshippers at a mosque in Egypt’s Delta province of Daqahleya.