French Foreign Minister affirms respect for Islam in cartoon dispute

Sheikh Ahmed Al Tayeb tells Jean-Yves Le Drian : 'We refuse to describe terrorism as Islamic'

The Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Al Tayeb meets France's foreign affairs minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, in the Egyptian capital Cairo on November 8, 2020. AFP 
The Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Al Tayeb meets France's foreign affairs minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, in the Egyptian capital Cairo on November 8, 2020. AFP 

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian asserted his country’s “profound respect for Islam” during a visit to Cairo on Sunday during a dispute with the Muslim world over France’s defence of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.

Mr Le Drian’s visit comes after attacks in France over anger of President Emmanuel Macron's defence of the caricatures, considered blasphemous by Muslims, as freedom of expression.

After meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Mr Le Drian said an “anti-French” campaign in the Muslim world was the result of a distortion of Mr Macron’s comments.

“We have a first principle, which is the highest respect for Islam,” he said.

"I also want to say that Muslims are fully part of society in France.

“The second message is that we’re confronted by a terrorism threat, fanaticism, on our soil but also elsewhere, and this is a common battle.”

Mr Le Drian said he had a long exchange marked by “great frankness” with Sheikh Ahmed Al Tayeb, who leads Al Azhar, Cairo’s 1,000-year-old seat of Sunni Muslim learning.

“I noted numerous points of divergence in our analyses," he said.

"I told the Grand Imam how much we need a voice of balance, tolerance and moderation.:

French officials later said Mr Le Drian had meant to say “convergence”, not “divergence”.

The battle France was fighting alongside Egypt and other countries was against extremism, Mr Le Drian said.

“The Grand Imam suggested that we work together to deepen this common convergence,” he said.

Mr Al Tayeb said he had stressed that any insult against the Prophet was unacceptable.

“I am the first to protest against freedom of expression if this freedom offends any religion, not just Islam,” he said.

“We refuse to describe terrorism as Islamic. Al Azhar represents the voice of nearly two billion Muslims, and I said that terrorists do not represent us, and we are not responsible for their actions.”

Updated: November 10, 2020 03:54 AM

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