Calls for Denmark boycott gather pace in Egypt, Muslim world following cartoon reprint

Jonathan Spollen
8 Min Read

CAIRO: Calls for the severance of ties with Denmark and the boycott of Danish products heightened throughout the Muslim world this week following the republication of a cartoon negatively depicting Prophet Mohamed in Denmark’s major newspapers.

The decision to reprint the cartoon, which shows Islam’s prophet wearing a turban in the shape of a bomb, was taken after an alleged plot to kill its illustrator Kurt Westergaard by two Algerian nationals and a Danish national of Moroccan descent was uncovered.

Outraged Muslims in cities around Denmark protested 10 nights in a row resulting in dozens of arrests, while protests and rallies were held in most Muslim countries including Jordan, Syria, Indonesia, and the Gaza Strip, with some turning violent in the cases of Afghanistan and Somalia where deaths and injuries were reported.

The largest protest was held in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum Wednesday where over 10,000 Muslims marched to the palace of President Omar Bashir, who came out and told the crowd that “not a single Danish foot will from now on desecrate the land of Sudan.

“We urge all Muslims around the world to boycott Danish commodities, goods, companies, institutions, organizations and personalities, he said.

Denmark’s foreign aid minister Ulla Toernaes retaliated Thursday, saying that President Al-Bashir’s remarks could jeopardize the aid package Sudan currently receives from Denmark, which amounts to $26 million annually and which is set to reach $100 million in 2009 as part of a special humanitarian and reconstruction package.

“I certainly wouldn’t deny that the case would (have) some consequences for our aid cooperation with Sudan, but I have not made up my mind, she told Danish press.

Until now it is the most serious diplomatic fallout between Denmark and a Muslim country resulting from the controversy, though there have been actions taken and threats made by officials and organizations in a number of other countries as well.

Iran has withdrawn its ambassador to Denmark and Qatar’s Chamber of Commerce said it has halted dealings with Danish delegations, while in Bahrain parliament formed a committee to contact Arab and Islamic governments to enforce a boycott.

On Tuesday Pakistan’s Senate unanimously passed a resolution of condemnation, calling on its government to “mobilize the governments and peoples of all Muslim and peace-loving countries of the world to resort to all necessary diplomatic and other measures in response to the cartoons.

A source at the Danish Foreign Ministry in Copenhagen, speaking in an unofficial capacity and on condition of anonymity, told Daily News Egypt that Danish officials were taken aback by developments in Jordan, where the country’s major trade unions have called for the severance of trade between the two countries.

In Egypt, the Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Hossam Zaki told Daily News Egypt that government representatives had met with Denmark’s Ambassador in Cairo, Christian Hoppe, to express their dismay over the publication of the cartoons, but said that they did not intend to take official action over the matter.

“We called on the ambassador to make all possible efforts to ensure this doesn’t happen again, Zaki said.

“It is really unfortunate that a country like Denmark would cause such harm to its image and its economic interests. Nobody can understand why they would republish these cartoons.

A youth football match that was due to take place last week between Egypt and Denmark was also cancelled, which according to the spokesperson for the Egyptian football union, Alaa Eldin, was made by the Egyptian

government, though Zaki denies any government involvement in the decision.Officials and businesspeople in Denmark are particularly worried about the economic impact another boycott might have on the Danish economy after a boycott in 2006 following the original publication of the cartoons cost the economy an estimated $1.5 billion.

Already in most major supermarkets around Cairo signs have been put up saying that no Danish products are on sale.

Mohamed Hammad, a manager at Metro supermarket in Zamalek, told Daily News Egypt that the store would not sell Danish products and would keep its sign up until there was an official apology from Denmark.

He added that several customers had called the supermarket saying they would not shop there if there were Danish products on sale.

Already Danish firms, particularly those producing dairy products, which are Denmark’s biggest export to the Middle East, have cut back production and some have even begun temporarily laying off staff.

Arla Foods, whose global brands include Apetina cheese and Lurpak butter – a common sight on Egyptian supermarket shelves – said it was cutting about 150 tons of capacity per week at one of its dairy plants in North West Denmark.

“Some customers are ordering while others are reluctant to renew orders because they are uncertain about how the situation will develop. It’s not a real boycott but more a general hesitation, Arla Foods Sales Director Finn Hansen, said in a statement.

Denmark’s Ambassador in Cairo Christian Hoppe told Daily News Egypt that while the Danish government has no intention to insult Islam or Muslims, it was not responsible for what was published in the country’s press, and would not be issuing an official apology.

“We have the greatest respect for Islam, he said, “but freedom of expression is ingrained in the political culture of Western countries. We don’t decide what is printed in the country’s press.

Diaa Rashwan, a researcher at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, told Daily News Egypt that a boycott was the best way for people offended by the cartoons to protest, but regretted violent reactions and calls to sever economic and diplomatic ties.

“Boycotts are a civilized and democratic way to express frustration, he said. “But it’s important not to politicize this and break ties with Denmark.

His words echo those of leading Muslim Brotherhood member Essam El-Erian, who condemned the violent protests that erupted following the publication of the cartoons, and said that the decision to republish them was the result of a misunderstanding in Western countries of the significance of religion in the Muslim world

“Violence is not the solution, El-Erian told Daily News Egypt. “There needs to be dialogue in order to resolve this issue.

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