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France's Le Drian aims to soothe tensions in Egypt

November 9, 2020

Anti-France protests have erupted in many Muslim-majority countries over cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammed. France's top diplomat Jean-Yves Le Drian stressed the "highest respect" for Islam during his Egypt visit.

French foriegn minister Jean-Yves Le Drian meets Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb
Image: Nariman El-Mofty/AP Photo/picture alliance

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian traveled to Egypt Sunday to discuss France's stance toward Islam after satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo re-released cartoons that showed the Prophet Muhammad.

"We have a first principle which is the highest respect for Islam," Le Drian told reporters on Sunday. "I also want to say that Muslims are fully part of society in France."

Le Drian met with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sahmeh Shukry. After meeting with the two Egyptian leaders, Le Drian said an "anti-French" campaign in Muslim communities was the result of a distortion of French President Emmanuel Macron's comments on the issue.

After Charlie Hebdo released the cartoons in September, several people were killed in apparent Islamist attacks in Paris and Nice, including two people who were beheaded. Macron called both attacks acts of terrorism. The French government's position defending the right to publish the cartoons also prompted anti-French demonstrations in Muslim-majority countries.

Charlie Hebdo was also the target of a terrorist attack in 2015, which left 12 dead. The trial surrounding the shooting began in September, and the magazine re-printed the cartoons that triggered the attack in response.

Read more: France Muhammad cartoon row: What you need to know

Le Drian said, "we're confronted by a terrorism threat, fanaticism, on our soil but also elsewhere, and this battle is a common battle."

Jean-Yves Le Drian and Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb
The French Foreign Minister (L) also met with Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayeb (R)Image: Media Center of Al-Azhar/AFP

Meeting the Imam

Le Drian then talked with said Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar and the highest authority on Islam in Egypt. The grand imam leads the Al-Azhar Mosque and the prestigious Al-Azhar University, which many believe to be the foremost religious institution for Sunni Muslims across the world. Last month, Al-Tayeb referred to remarks by Macron as "racist" and spreading "hate speech."

Al-Tayeb remained unmoved by Le Drian on Sunday.

"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," said Al-Tayeb in a statement released by Al-Azhar.

He also denounced terrorism in the name of the religion.

"We refuse to describe terrorism as Islamic," said Al-Tayeb. "Al-Azhar represents the voice of nearly 2 billion Muslims, and I said that terrorists do not represent us, and we are not responsible for their actions."

Le Drian said the discussion between them was marked by "great frankness" but added "the Grand Imam suggested that we work together to deepen this common convergence."

kbd/dj (AFP, Reuters)