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Egyptian paper published cartoons in October

Facsimile of 'Al Fagr' front page 17 October 2005. Mohammed cartoon to the far right.

© "Sandmonkey" / afrol News
afrol News, 10 February
- The Egyptian newspaper 'Al Fagr' published the controversial Mohammed cartoons already on 17 October last year to illustrate their bad taste. It caused no reactions. Meanwhile, the organisation behind the anti-Danish riots is being disclosed as a manipulation of Muslim leaders in North Africa and the Middle East. Photos from a French pig squealing contest were falsely presented as an insult to Islam.

More an more details surrounding the cartoon controversy are emerging as the Danish press and Egyptians look into the background to the sudden wrath of Muslims all over the world. It is becoming clear that radical Danish Muslims consciously misled Muslim leaders in Egypt and Palestine to cause anti-Danish sentiments.

After the Danish daily 'Jyllands-Posten' declined to apologise for the publication of 12 mostly inoffensive caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed - some were even ridiculing 'Jyllands-Posten' directly - the radical Danish Imam Ahmed Akkari in December decided to launch an international campaign against Denmark in the Arab world.

Here, the cartoons were known, but had not caused many reactions. Indeed, the Egyptian daily 'Al Fagr' ("Dawn") in October last year republished six of the 12 'Jyllands-Posten' cartoons, only three weeks after the original publication. The relatively small daily - which earlier has made international headlines after publishing death threats against the Coptic Pope - published the full-scale cartoons as an illustration of the bad morals of the European press.

According to the Danish Ambassador in Cairo, Bjarne Sørensen, this was followed with great interest at the Embassy. However, the publication of the cartoons by 'Al Fagr' in Egypt failed to cause the protest or even discussion that they had already caused in Denmark. Actually, there were no reactions at all, Mr Sørensen registered.

Disappointed by the lack of public interest in Egypt and a decreasing interest in Denmark, radical Danish Muslim groups started planning for a new counterattack. A 28-year-old Danish imam, Ahmed Akkari, led the way by uniting several radical Muslim groups into a Committee for the Defence of the Honour of the Prophet. Mr Akkari claims this Committee represents 27 Danish Muslim groups, while investigations into this claim has shown that many of the named groups had never been contacted by the Committee and others had never existed.

In December, Mr Akkari heads a Danish Muslim delegation to Egypt to meet the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Muhammad Sayid Tantawy, the Chair of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. They present themselves as the legitimate representatives of all Muslims in Denmark - a claim most Muslim communities in the country later have forcefully rejected. With them, the radicals bring a suitcase full of documentation on how the Prophet is being dishonoured in Denmark.

"We were not listened to in Denmark," the young imam told the Norwegian daily 'Dagbladet' earlier this week. "Neither the politicians nor 'Jyllands-Posten' wanted to listen to us. Therefore, we had to bring our case to the Middle East," he explained.

Meeting with the Grand Iman of Egypt, the head of the Arab League and the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Mr Akkari and his group present them with "insults against the Prophet" that never have existed, photos from the meeting document. The 43-page report handed over to the Egyptians included a number of illustrations and photos that had never been published by any Danish newspaper, something Mr Akkari has admitted to the Danish press this week.

Most shocking, the group showed a photo of a man rigged out as a pig. This, they claimed, was a Western illustration of the Prophet. The photo, however, was of a French man from a Pyrenean village, participating in a pig squealing festival; a yearly amusement in the village. Aslo, illustrations of the Prophet as a pedophile were falsely said to have been printed in Denmark. A blatant lie.

The high-ranking Egyptians were naturally shocked; this was by far more scandalous than the cartoons republished by 'Al Fagr' almost two months earlier. Foregin Minister Gheit decided to bring the insulting material to Mecca later in December, where they were shown to other delegates of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) united in the holy city.

Naturally, the OIC delegates were shocked and immediately adopted a resolution condemning the "aggressive campaign" against the Prophet and Islam in Denmark. As more European newspapers started publishing the cartoons - which few Muslims have seen - Arab leaders and many ordinary in North Africa and the Middle East got convinced that there indeed was a campaign against Islam in Europe. Then, the often violent mass protests started.

In Denmark, the role of Mr Akkari and his radical group is now slowly being uncovered. Danish Muslims at large are going on distance to the fundamentalist leader. Political voices are calling for the launching of high treason charges against the Danish imam.

Also in Egypt, the truth behind the sudden uproar is being uncovered. The popular Egyptian blogger "Sandmonkey" this week revealed that 'Al Fagr' indeed was the first newspaper in the world to reprint the 'Jylland-Posten' caricatures. Photos of the daily's 17 October front page are published on Sandmonkey's blog, and the question is humourously raised whether one now also should boycott Egyptian products.

At 'Al Fagr', the sudden attention has caused unrest. After all, Jordanian editor Jihad al-Momani of the newspaper 'Shihan' was sent to prison for having reprinted the cartoons, although this was in February when the protests were at their height. 'Al Fagr' decided to scale down the risk. After Sandmonkey's disclosure, the 17 October edition suddenly disappeared from the newspaper's website. The anterior and following editions are still online.

Also most Arab politicians - originally outraged at the OIC meeting in Mecca - are now urging Muslims all over the world to calm down and accept the apology of 'Jyllands-Posten'. They are slowly realising that Mr Akkari's December delegation had manipulated them. Already on Tuesday, the OIC joined UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the European Union in a statement appealing for "restraint and calm."

Meanwhile, in Scandinavia, moderate voices have now completely taken over the dialogue. In Norway, the editor of 'Magazinet' has apologised and the Muslim Council has accepted the apology, calling for world-wide calm in a joint statement with the editor. In Denmark, moderate Muslims now are getting organised and radical groups around imam Lagban and Mr Akkari are isolated. Danish Muslims now call for calm and a world-wide acceptance of the apology issued by 'Jyllands-Posten'.

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