Anti-France protests draw tens of thousands across Muslim world

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Demonstrations held in Pakistan, Lebanon, Palestinian territories and Afghanistan

Protesters in Islamabad, Pakistan
Protesters in Islamabad, Pakistan. Photograph: Sohail Shahzad/EPA
Protesters in Islamabad, Pakistan. Photograph: Sohail Shahzad/EPA
Associated Press in Dubai

Last modified on Fri 30 Oct 2020 21.11 GMT

Tens of thousands of Muslims in Pakistan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and elsewhere joined protests on Friday over the French president Emmanuel Macron’s vow to protect the right to caricature the prophet Muhammad.

Demonstrations in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, turned violent as 2,000 people who tried to march towards the French embassy were pushed back by police firing teargas and using batons. Crowds of Islamist activists hanged an effigy of Macron from an overpass after pounding it with their shoes.

Several demonstrators were wounded in clashes with police as authorities pushed to evict activists from the red zone, a security area that houses Pakistan’s diplomatic missions. As night fell, demonstrators staged a sit-in on a main road to protest against authorities’ use of force.

In the eastern city of Lahore, an estimated 10,000 followers of the radical Islamic Tehreek-e-Labbaik party took to the streets chanting slogans and carrying banners. “There’s only one punishment for blasphemy,” shouted Khadim Hussain Rizvi, a cleric leading the march. “Beheading! Beheading!” the protesters yelled back.

In Multan, in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province, a crowd torched an effigy of Macron and called on Pakistan to sever ties with France and boycott French goods.

The tensions between France and Muslim-majority nations flared up this month when a young Muslim beheaded a French schoolteacher who had shown caricatures of the prophet Muhammad in class.

The images, republished by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to mark the opening of the trial over the deadly 2015 attack against the publication, have angered Muslims across the world who consider depictions of the prophet blasphemous. On Thursday, a knife-wielding Tunisian man carrying a copy of the Qur’an killed three people at a church in Nice.

A picture of Emmanuel Macron burns in Islamabad
A picture of Emmanuel Macron burns in Islamabad. Photograph: Sohail Shahzad/EPA

In Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, a few hundred demonstrators headed toward the Palais des Pins, the official residence of the French ambassador, but found their way blocked by lines of police officers in riot gear. Waving black and white flags with Islamist insignia, the activists cried: “At your service, oh prophet of God.” Some threw stones at police who responded with smoke and teargas.

The protests will be an embarrassment for the prime minister-designate, Saad Hariri, who is trying to form a new government that would implement a French plan for reform. France, Lebanon’s former colonial ruler, has been helping the country chart a course out of its spiralling economic and financial crisis.

In Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, worshippers thronged a Shia mosque after Friday prayers, chanting religious slogans and holding signs lampooning Macron. The Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s criticisms of Macron prompted France to recall its ambassador to Turkey last weekend.

Hundreds of Palestinians protested against Macron outside al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam. Some youths scuffled with Israeli police as they exited the esplanade into the Old City. Israeli police said they dispersed the gathering and detained three people.

Scores more turned out in the Gaza Strip, where the militant Hamas group organised rallies at mosques across the territory that it controls. Fathi Hammad, a Hamas official, addressed a demonstration at the Jabaliya refugee camp, vowing “to stand together to confront this criminal offensive that harms the faith of about 2 billion Muslims”, referring to depictions of the prophet. He reiterated Hamas authorities’ appeal for Palestinians to boycott all French products.

One protester, who identified himself as Abu Huzayfa, equivocated when asked about recent attacks in France in retribution for the cartoons. “We don’t target innocents,” he said. “But those who directly insult our prophet will shoulder the responsibility.”

Protesters in Kabul
Protesters in Kabul. Photograph: Omar Sobhani/Reuters

Cries of “death to France” rang out in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, and several other provinces as thousands filled the streets. Demonstrators trampled on portraits of Macron and called on Afghan leaders to shut down the French embassy, halt French imports and ban French citizens from visiting the country.

In the western Herat province, protesters hoisted an effigy of Macron using a crane and set it on fire. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of Hezb-i-Islami, an Islamist party, warned that if Macron did not “control the situation, we are going to a third world war and Europe will be responsible”.

In Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, a crowd of 50,000 burned effigies and held up signs reading “say no to Islamophobia”, “stop racism,” and “boycott French products”.

In Ethiopia, several hundred people protested peacefully after Friday prayers.

Muslim leaders have loudly criticised France for what they see as the government’s provocative and anti-Muslim stance. But Thursday’s attack in Nice drew condemnations from leaders of countries that had voiced outrage over the caricatures, such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt.

In a Friday sermon aired live on Egyptian state TV, the country’s minister of religious endowments appeared to denounce any violent retaliation for the cartoons. “Love of the prophet cannot be expressed by killing, sabotaging or responding to evil with evil,” said Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa, addressing dozens of worshippers at a mosque in Daqahleya province.