A review of articles in the Egyptian press on the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, examining the effect of the demonstrations across the Muslim world on Egypt’s tourist industry and suggestions that governments in Islamic countries have encouraged angry opposition to the cartoons to vent their citizens’ frustrations and gain legitimacy in the face of Western pressures.
There is still discontent in Egyptian circles over Denmark’s perceived insults to Islam, with continuing calls for a boycott of Danish products until an official apology is offered for the publication of the cartoons.
However, al-Maydān, February 16, 2006 states that "the Egyptian ministry of tourism, which does not seem to be aware of the status of the Prophet Muhammad”, has participated with an official delegation in the 48th session of the tourist vacation fair, which kicked off recently at the exhibitions palace in the Belgian capital Brussels. Seven-hundred exhibitors from 65 countries took part in the four-day event.
Rīhām Wahīd, the Egyptian tourist attachأ© in Brussels, said Egypt participates in this exhibition every year with the aim of enhancing contacts with tourist companies and agents, promoting tourism in Egypt and analyzing tourist flows.
A number of Arab countries, including Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan and Syria, have participated in the fair through the Arab-Belgian-Luxembourg chamber of commerce pavilion, she said.
Wahīd pointed out that the number of Belgian tourists who visited Egypt last year reached 155,000, an increase of 7% compared to 2004, adding that Egypt has also participated via the Egyptian tourist office in Brussels in the vacations exhibition held in Utrecht, The Netherlands, on January 10-15 along with 1400 exhibitors from 100 countries.
Egypt’s participation in that event comes after Denmark cancelled many tourist flights to Cairo, which deeply disturbed the Ministry of Tourism and gave rise to concerns about the disappearance of Danish tourists, nearly 92,000 of whom visit Egypt annually.
Meanwhile, economic sources dismissed statements made recently by several Egyptian officials about the paltry trade exchange between Egypt and Denmark, noting that the volume of Danish investments has seen a recent boom. For instance, the Trianon chain of Danish restaurants is spreading in Cairo and Alexandria (al-Maydān, February 16, 2006).
Tāriq Ramadān, a famous modern Muslim scholar in Europe, said in an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel that the reactions to the cartoons published by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten were exaggerated, adding that he went to Denmark and met with leaders of the Muslim communities there and asked them not to overreact to the issue, which he feared would backfire on Muslims (al-Dustour, February 15, 2006).
Al-Dustour also stated that the governments of Islamic countries have encouraged the reactions to the cartoons crisis to vent their citizens’ frustrations and to gain legitimacy in the face of Western pressures [Reviewer: It is not mentioned specifically whether these reactions were violent or non-violent]. Most of the angry reactions came from countries whose governments have problems with the West, the paper noted, and the majority of angry demonstrators do not know that European governments cannot control the media (al-Dustour, February 15, 2006).
On the other hand, the recent 56th Berlin International Film Festival witnessed the screening of the Danish film En Til En [One to One] directed by Annette K Olsen. The film was produced before the caricature controversy, but its screening, while expressions of frustration over the issue are still in the press, is significant. The movie deals with the relationship between the Danish people and Arab Muslim immigrants and refugees in Denmark, and has become one of the festival’s major cultural and political events (al-Jumhourīya, February 17, 2006).
In al-Ahrām’s back-page column of February 21, 2006, former editor-in-chief Ibrāhīm Nāfi‘ wrote that there were some voices that called for the utmost degree of rationality in dealing with the cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
Rose al-Yousuf, February 17, 2006, stated that it should be quite clear that there are powers on both sides that are trying to make bad use of this issue to fan the flames of the so-called ’clash of civilizations’. While there are voices in the Arab and Muslim world that call for appeasement and urge citizens to resort to peaceful means of expression and steer clear of acts of violence, there are also some in the West who are nourishing the conflict (Rose al-Yousuf, February 17, 2006).
One of those people was the Italian minister of reform, Roberto Calderoli, who announced that he intended to wear a shirt picturing the cartoons. This led to massive demonstrations in the Libyan port city of Benghazi, where demonstrators attempted to storm the Italian consulate and set it on fire, which resulted in the deaths of 10 citizens, killed in clashes with the Libyan security forces. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has since asked the minister to offer his resignation. (Rose al-Yousuf, February 17, 2006)
A recent report sent by the Egyptian Embassy in Copenhagen to the delegates department at the Azhar read that the image of Muslims in the minds of Danish people is deluded, as many Danes view Muslims as "terrorists, polygamists and ignorant men who force their wives to wear the hijāb [headscarf for Muslim women] and their daughters to be circumcised," pointed to the pressing need to rectify this image. (Rose al-Yousuf, February 17, 2006)
A Canadian magazine, The Strand, issued by the students of Toronto University has contained yet another offensive caricature that sparked a fresh wave of anger by depicting the Prophet Muhammad kissing Jesus Christ (Rose al-Yousuf, February 20, 2006).
In the meantime, Kurt Westergaard, the Danish cartoonist who sparked the controversy with his caricature of the Prophet Muhammad, said in an interview with Scottish newspaper The Herald that freedom of expression and the press is essential in any democratic society (Rose al-Yousuf, February 20, 2006).
Westergaard, in the interview re-published by the British newspaper The Observer, said that he was not sorry about the published cartoons. He declared that he was inspired by "terrorism - which gets its spiritual ammunition from Islam" to draw a cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammed wearing a turban shaped liked a bomb (Rose al-Yousuf, February 20, 2006).
Westergaard characterizes his drawings as "a protest against the fact that we perhaps are going to have double standards (in Denmark and Western Europe) as for freedom of expression and freedom of the press." When asked whether he regretted drawing the cartoon, or the cartoon’s widespread publication, he simply responded "No". He said: "the world is always a dangerous place "“ but what alternatives do we have? (Rose al-Yousuf, February 20, 2006).
Jyllands-Posten editor-in-chief Carsten Juste, in a statement signed by him on the Danish paper’s web site, had said the cartoons are not in violation of the Danish laws but that certainly they angered many Muslims (Rose al-Yousuf, February 20, 2006).
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen had said he personally condemned these cartoons, adding that he personally respected religious beliefs and that would prevent him from depicting Muhammad, Jesus or any other religious symbols in a way that could hurt other’s feelings (Rose al-Yousuf, February 20, 2006).