Arab governments are stepping up their demands for regulation of American media to ensure Islam gets more favorable coverage in the United States, while President Barack Obama used his weekend message to again condemn criticism of Islam and to reassure Americans worried war in the Arab region.
Egypt’s Prime Minister Hisham Qandil said Sept. 15 that he expected changes in U.S. law and media practice following the release of a 14-minute anti-Islam YouTube video and a week of ongoing unrest in the Middle East.
The violence has included numerous protests, riots and deadly attacks on U.S. and European facilities since Sept. 11, all of which have damaged Obama’s election-trail claims to foreign policy success.
The United States should “take the necessary measures to ensure insulting billions of people – one and a half billion people – and their beliefs does not happen, and people pay for what they do, and at the same time make sure that the reflections of the true Egyptian and Muslims is well [represented] in Western media,” Qandil added, according to the the English-language site of Egypt’s main newspaper, Al Ahram.
But Qandil’s statement also hinted at more violence if the Islamists’ demands were not met.
“I think we need to work out something around this because we cannot wait and see this happen again,” Qandil said.
And on Friday, a top leader of the multinational Cairo-based Muslim Brotherhood party used Western terms to call for greater restrictions on Western media.
“Today’s world is a global village; nations are closer than ever before,” said Khairant El-Shater, the deputy leader of the party, whose members include Qandil, and control Egypt’s government. “In such a world, respect for values and figures — religious or otherwise — that nations hold dear is a necessary requirement to build sustainable, mutually beneficial relationships.”
“Despite our resentment of the continued appearance of productions like the anti-Muslim film that led to the current violence, we do not hold the American government or its citizens responsible for acts of the few that abuse the laws protecting freedom of expression,” he said.
His language echoed the Sept. 11 message from the U.S. embassy in Cairo, which tried to fend off violent protesters by declaring that “respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy [and] we firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”
In Saudi Arabia, the government’s senior religious leader “called on the international community to take steps to criminalize any act of abusing great prophets and messengers such as Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them),” according to a report in the government-controlled English-language paper Arab News.
The competing demands for regulation of American media reflect the political competition between the rival Islamist powers, including the Cairo-based Muslim Brotherhood and the wealthy Saudi government.