Review: freedom of expression debated in Egyptian columns

Daily News Egypt
11 Min Read

As the reaction to the US movie offensive to prophet Muhammed slows down, columnists across several Egyptian newspapers continue with their analysis of freedom of expression and its relation to the clip.

Many writers touch upon the violent reactions towards the movie recalling the indecent words of many Islamic preachers while attacking certain artists. Some writers have decided to highlight that extremist sheikhs, who claim to be the guardians of the religion, are deliberately tarnishing the tolerant features of Islam in front of the world.


Hassan Nafaa

Between anti-Zionism and anti-blasphemy

Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper

Almost all democratic countries have always fiercely defended the notion of freedom of expression as one of the basic human rights, states Nafaa. Despite the fact that democratic regimes are aware of the dangerous consequences of breaching any rights that relate to the freedom of expression, only few attempt to fully respect the concept. Anti-Zionism laws have always been justified as a method to safeguard humanity from the dangers of prejudice and discrimination.

Later, it was proven that the primary reason behind such statutes is to protect Israeli policies.  The phenomenon of anti-Zionism has been replaced in the west with a new rising trend of Islamophobia.

Many westerners deal with a Muslim person in the same manner of dealing with a new project for a terrorist attack. This hostile perception has always been manifested in the way some European countries have depicted prophet Muhammed and published writings offensive to Islam. According to Nafaa, it is strange how the west reacts to the Muslims protests against the attacks on their religion, in particular with the latest US movie was promoted on 11 September.

The writer condemns how democratic systems response is saying “we are democratic governments that grant the right of freedom of expression to everyone.” If the west hasn’t issued statutes against Zionism and transferred people like Roger Garaudy to court, Nafaa could have been the first to defend his position out of the deep belief that perils resulting from misusing freedom of expression are much lesser than those resulting from limiting it.


Hamdy Qandil

I can smell the rust in US

Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper

Recalling all the details of the Danish cartoon crisis, Qandil aims at providing a comparative analysis between the incident that sparked a contagious wrath in 2005 and the recent situation of the US offensive movie to prophet Muhammed. After recalling that 143 newspapers of 56 different countries have republished the offensive cartoons, the writer lists the similar reactions of many European countries towards the issue of freedom of expression.

The Danish cartoon crisis has left many international relations shattering. Despite that, the writer condemns the cold reaction of the United Nations that was also criticised by many Muslim countries who failed to meet with the Danish minister for almost three months.

Although the repeated attacks on the Jyllands Posten Danish newspaper, Europeans sympathised with the drawer of the cartoons who was even honored by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Comparing the two situations, the writer states there are vast differences between the outrage resulting from the Danish cartoons and the US film. One of the important aspects is that this time the US, the world’s largest country, is on the other side of the story- not Denmark.

Another observation is the killing of the US ambassador to Libya along with other two diplomatic officials. The row over the film can be considered as the first test between the US and countries of the Arab spring. Egypt is in a dire need to defend prophet Muhammed, but is paralysed with the already perplexed political and economic situation hitting the country since the eruption of the 25 January revolution. Qandil states that probably another major contrast is among the production team of the movie are some Egyptian Copts.


Fahmi Howeidi

Preachers who repulse not persuade

Al-Shorouk newspaper

Islamic preachers who use vulgar and unacceptable phrases while attacking artists are a shame on Islam, Howeidi believes. The writer cites indecent statements being uttered by a prominent Muslim preacher while describing an Egyptian female artist. If one would like to attack Islam and its sheikhs, he/she could simply follow a Twitter conversation between a preacher and other users arguing with him in a certain topic.

Howeidi states that if Islamist figures as such can be looked at as criminals who deliberately tarnish the image of their belief, he argues that youths who respond in a rude manner are no more than victims of improper societal uprising. There is no doubt that there is a wide gap that differentiates between proper religion and people pretending to be religious. He says many Quranic verses have repeatedly stressed the importance of staying away from naming and shaming.

Many Islamic preachers attack people using extreme defamation techniques far from the basic teachings of Islam, that we supposedly adhere to. The writer then chides shiekhs who constantly strive to separate between Islamic worship and the day to day dealing with people. Some preachers claim that going to prayer has nothing to do with treating a person in a crude way.

The writer refutes this approach and places emphasis that many preachers have been more occupied with appearing in evening talk shows and shining in the political realm. To conclude his column, Howeidi states that the rise of political Islam is pointless if Islamic manners start to fade away.


Emad Al-Din Adeeb

“Let’s hit the Americans with shoes”

Al-Watan newspaper

Referring to the recent violence that took place within the margins of the US embassy to Cairo in reaction to the offensive movie to Islam, Adeeb cites a conversation between one of the angry protesters and a correspondent.

Throughout the dialogue, it was clear that the demonstrator has not seen the clip and demands that president Morsy would shove the US ambassador to Egypt from the country. The protester said “we want to hit the Americans with shoes.”Struck with the statement, the writer questions the ability of the Egyptian people to take control of their reactions and base their arguments on solid evidence.

Ordinary Egyptians usually find it easy to follow slang statements commonly used to express their frustration from attacks, especially if it relates to their religion. Adeeb suggests that probably the wise reaction to be taken at such situations is coming up with a new method of punishment that penalises the producers of that film.

The other proposal is thinking of efficient regulations that sketch bold lines with anti-blasphemy issues. Adeeb states that protests in different Arab countries need to be reminded that the movie is not a result of a conspiracy planned by America against Islam. For more than 200 years, the US constitution grants the full right to any citizen to freely express his opinion and expand his creativity in different methods. Probably this is the cost of the unlimited freedom of expression that can sometimes dash the boundaries of precious manners.


Rasha Allam

The offensive film and the more offensive reaction

Al-Watan newspaper

Shedding light on the violent reaction of Egyptians to the US produced anti-Islam movie, Allam believes that the primary reason behind the outrage is the meaningless promotion of the movie’s trailer. She condemns the timing of promoting the video on 11 September stressing that the intention behind it is to provoke Muslims with more attacks on their religion and prophet. In her opinion, the situation went out of control when certain steps were not seriously taken into consideration.

Allam notes that probably the first move that should have been immediately taken by Al-Azhar sheikhs is to show up on TV to explain and elaborate on the tolerance of Islam and condemn the violence that followed the movie. Preachers should have properly played their role in eliminating false stereotypes that Islam has come to demean females and breach her rights.

Another important missing point is the fact that almost all offended Egyptians can not separate between the US government and our diplomatic relations with the US and the producers of the video, which include a number of Egyptian Copts. The writer stresses that there is a massive difference between the US as a government and an individual product of a clip as such.

Finally, Allam reminds the readers of the vital role played by media as many channels insisted on airing the trailer of the movie and thus igniting more violence and hatred. A wise reaction to a movie as such comes in an approach where Muslims show the world that what comes in the film is a complete different than the way they reacted to it.

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