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Film Unsettles Muslims, Christians in Egypt

Hezbollah al-Mahdi boy scouts shout slogans as they march during an anti-U.S. protest in Beirut 17 Sept. Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah made a rare public appearance to address tens of thousands of marchers protesting against a film made in the U.S. that mocks the prophet Mohammed. (Photo: CNS/Sharif Karim, Reuters) 

18 Sep 2012 – By James Martone

CAIRO (CNS) — As tear-gas bearing police battled Egyptians armed with stones in front of Cairo’s U.S. Embassy, Rashad was two neighborhoods away, making sure the few evening costumers respected the line at the Mobinil cellphone company where he works.

“Is it all right to defame the Prophet, blessings be upon him?” Rashad, a Muslim, asked a reporter who inquired about the embassy standoff. “No. There are limits to how far people should be allowed to go,” he said after a slight pause, in answer to his own question.

Rashad, who would not give his last name, had not seen the amateur film reportedly defaming the prophet Mohammed that led to protests at the U.S. embassies in Egypt and other countries. But he said he’d heard enough to know that the film produced in the U.S. was “haram,” or sinful, and that protests against it — however violent — were justified.

Such anger over the U.S.-produced film that depicted Mohammed as a sex-crazed simpleton has Egypt’s Christians — and others in predominantly Muslim countries — worried. They say the film’s association with the Christian West makes them possible targets of extremist behavior.

“What happens outside the country is very dangerous for us because it is perceived to be related to us inside,” said Bishop Adel Zaki of Alexandria, Egypt’s vicar for Latin-rite Catholics.

The film was released in July but went almost completely unnoticed in the Middle East until a preview of it was translated into Arabic.

What he called “the Vatican decree which commands respect for those of other faiths.” But when products or policies deemed anti-Arab or anti-Muslim surface in the U.S. and in other Western countries, Egypt’s Christians, who account for about 8 million of the country’s more than 82 million people, often feel the brunt, he said.

In an interview at his Cairo residence, Bishop Zaki told Catholic News Service that Egypt’s Catholics condemned defamation of other religions, in line with People in other countries “should keep in mind that there are repercussions for Christians here. The level of fanaticism grows,” he said.

Newly elected Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a conservative Muslim, has decried the short film, saying “Egyptians reject any kind of insult against our Prophet,” but he also called for restraint and protection of the country’s “foreign guests” and embassies.

Despite the tension over the film in Cairo and other parts of the Middle East, Father Fady Sady, a Coptic Catholic priest, said he did not expect trouble in Egypt’s South, where he lives and serves.

“(Muslims) know those who made the film are not from Egypt, so there will be no problems,” he said by cell phone from the city of Nagada. But he added that “when anything contentious” like this film appears abroad, Christians in Egypt go on alert.

“Perhaps someone not very educated could use the event to make an operation,” he said, referring to attacks on churches that have occurred in the past.

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Tags: Egypt Middle East Christians Christian-Muslim relations Arab Spring Copts