Deputy of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party Essam al-Erian - REUTERS
Muslim leaders criticised a French magazine's publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad on Wednesday as another Western insult to their faith and urged France's government to take firm action against it.
"We reject and condemn the French cartoons that dishonour the Prophet and we condemn any action that defames the sacred according to people's beliefs," the acting head of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, Essam Erian, said.
The cartoons were featured in the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. Its front cover showed an Orthodox Jew pushing a turbaned figure in a wheelchair and several caricatures of the Prophet were included on its inside pages, including some of him naked.
Their publication follows widespread outrage and violent anti-Western protests in many Muslim countries in Africa and Asia in the past week over an anti-Muslim film posted on the Internet.
Erian said the French judiciary should deal with the issue as firmly as it had handled the case against the magazine which published topless pictures of Britain's Duchess of Cambridge, the wife of Prince William.
"If the case of Kate (the duchess) is a matter of privacy, then the cartoons are an insult to a whole people. The beliefs of others must be respected," he said.
Erian also spoke out against any violent reaction from Muslims but said peaceful protests were justified.
Mahmoud Ghozlan, spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, welcomed French government criticism of the cartoons but said that French law should deal with insults against Islam in the same way as it deals with Holocaust denial.
"If anyone doubts the Holocaust happened, they are imprisoned, yet if anyone insults the Prophet, his companions or Islam, the most (France) does is to apologise in two words. It is not fair or logical," he said.
In Lebanon, leading Salafist cleric Sheikh Nabil Rahim said the cartoons were extremely insulting and could lead to more violence.
"Of course it will anger people further. It will raise tensions that were already dangerously high."
He accused those involved of trying provoke a clash of civilizations, not dialogue.
"We will try to keep things managed and peaceful, but these things easily get out of hand. I fear there could more targetting of foreigners, and this is why I wish they would not persist with these provocations."
An official in Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church said the move was a deliberate provocation. It showed "some international powers" wanted violence to escalate in Egypt so that the country would not develop economically, the official, who asked not to be named, said without elaborating.
In 2005, Danish cartoons of the Prophet caused a wave of violent protests across the Muslim world in which at least 50 people were killed.