Saudi Arabia, Iran Condemn France Over Cartoons of Prophet Mohammed

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, holds back from supporting a boycott, Iran summons French diplomat as official and public protests across the Muslim world continue

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A protester holding banner of France's Eiffel Tower and Al Masjid Nabawi of Saudi Arabia, takes part in a protest to condemn the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, Tehran, Iran September 9, 2020.
A protester holding banner of France's Eiffel Tower and Al Masjid Nabawi of Saudi Arabia, takes part in a protest to condemn the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, Tehran, Iran September 9, 2020. Credit: WANA NEWS AGENCY/ REUTERS

Saudi Arabia and Iran joined the condemnation of France's display cartoons offending the Prophet Mohammed on Tuesday, joining growing protests from Muslim-majority countries around the world.

But Riyadh held back from echoing calls by other Muslim states for action against the images being displayed in France.

A foreign ministry official also said in a statement that the Gulf state condemns all acts of terrorism, an apparent reference to the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty by an 18-year-old of Chechen origin, after Paty showed cartoons of the Prophet in a class on freedom of speech.

A picture of Macron with a shoe print on it during a demonstration against French President's comments over Prophet Mohammed cartoons, in Istanbul, October 25, 2020.Credit: YASIN AKGUL - AFP

"Freedom of expression and culture should be a beacon of respect, tolerance and peace that rejects practices and acts which generate hatred, violence and extremism and are contrary to coexistence," said the statement carried by state media.

Saudi Arabia's daily Arab News on Tuesday cited the head of the Saudi-based Muslim World League, Mohammed al-Issa, as cautioning that an over-reaction "that is negative and goes beyond what is acceptable" would only benefit "haters".

Iran summoned a French diplomat in protest, state media reported on Tuesday.

The report by state TV said an Iranian official in the country’s Foreign Ministry told the French diplomat that Paris' response to the killing was “unwise." The Iranian official said it was regrettable that France was permitting hatred against Islam under the guise of support for freedom of expression, state TV reported.

A powerful association of clerics in the Iranian city of Qom also urged the government late Monday to condemn Macron for his remarks while calling on Islamic nations to impose political and economic sanctions on France. Iranian hard-line newspaper Vatan-e Emrooz depicted Macron as the devil and called him Satan in a cartoon on its front page Tuesday.

Countries across the Middle East have been outraged by French President Emmanuel Macron's remarks last week in which he refused to condemn the publication or showing of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. 

Emmanuel Macron pays his respects to Samuel Paty, who was beheaded for showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in his civics class, during a national homage, Paris, October 21, 2020.Credit: FRANCOIS MORI - AFP

The images of the Prophet were first published years ago by a French satirical magazine, whose editorial offices were attacked by gunmen in 2015, killing 12 people. Since the beheading of the teacher this month, the cartoons have been displayed in France in solidarity, angering some Muslims.

France considers religious satire to be among the kinds of speech that fall under the freedom of expression, while many Muslims consider any perceived attack on their prophet as a grave offense.

Turkey's leader has called for a boycott of French goods and Pakistan's parliament passing a resolution urging the government to recall its envoy from Paris.

Traders protest following French President Emmanuel Macron's comments over the Prophet Mohammed caricatures, in Peshawar, Pakistan, October 26, 2020.Credit: ABDUL MAJEED - AFP

In Saudi Arabia, calls for a boycott of French supermarket chain Carrefour were trending on social media, though stores Reuters visited in Riyadh on Monday seemed busy as normal. A company representative in France said it had yet to feel any impact.

United Arab Emirates-based Majid Al Futtaim, which owns and operates Carrefour supermarkets across the Middle East, said the chain supported regional economies by sourcing most items from local suppliers and employing thousands of people.

"We understand that there is some concern among consumers across the region at present and we are monitoring the situation closely," it said in a statement.

Supermarket shelves empty of French products in protest of cartoons depicting Islam's Prophet Mohammed published in the French media, Kuwait City, October 23, 2020.Credit: YASSER AL-ZAYYAT - AFP

Kuwaiti stores pulled French yogurts and bottles of sparkling water from their shelves, Qatar University canceled a French culture week, and calls to stay away from the French-owned Carrefour grocery store chain were trending on social media in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Protests have been held in Iraq, Turkey and the Gaza Strip, and Pakistan’s parliament passed a resolution condemning the publication of cartoons of the prophet.

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