Protests against a film deemed offensive to the Prophet continued in Cairo on Thursday (September 13th) amid calls by religious authorities and activists for protestors to exercise restraint and protest peacefully.
Egyptian police on Thursday used tear gas against protestors who threw bottles and stones at security forces protecting the US embassy, where thousands of protestors gathered since Tuesday to protest against the film.
The health ministry said 13 people were injured during sporadic clashes through Wednesday night outside the embassy. On Tuesday, some protesters climbed the embassy wall and lowered the American flag, replacing it with a black Islamic flag, similar to the flag adopted by some militant groups. Egyptian military police intervened and secured the embassy perimeter without resorting to the use of force.
In Libya, protests took a violent turn when an armed attack on the US consulate in Benghazi killed four Americans, including the US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens. A number of Libyan security guards were also killed.
"I strongly object to insulting Islam's Prophet, Mohammad, peace be upon him, but it is of utmost importance that the message be delivered peacefully, not by breaking into buildings and embassies," said Mustafa Othman, 26, who was on his way to participate in a demonstration in front of the US Embassy in Cairo on Wednesday.
A few metres away from Othman, stood Mamdouh George, 20, a Copt student at the Faculty of Law, who carried a sign that read, "We defend the crescent and the cross together, peacefully."
Al-Azhar and the Coptic Church were among the first to issue statements condemning the defamation of religions and calling on demonstrators gathered in front of the US embassy and in the city centre to demonstrate peacefully.
Al-Azhar's High Council of Islamic Scholars said in a statement issued on Wednesday that reaction on the part of Muslims "must be marked by wisdom and [ought to] further illuminate the realities, sanctities and symbols of Islam".
It added that the Muslim mind must be armed with awareness and objective understanding of the nature of these problems.
The statement called on Muslims in all nations to exercise due care that "the legitimate anger for the sake of God and his messenger does not overstep the boundaries of Islamic ethics, so the innocent does not pay for the sin of the offender and we do not injure the unity between the people of our nation."
The Coptic Orthodox Church, in an official statement issued Tuesday by Anba Bakhomious on behalf of the Coptic Pope, said that the church disassociates itself from whoever produced the film, which it said was contemptuous of religions.
The statement added that the church rejects any transgression against religious beliefs or sentiments and stands in solidarity with the citizens in expressing their opinion in a peaceful manner.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on Thursday slammed "attacks" on the Prophet Mohammad while also stressing that he condemned violence.
"We Egyptians reject any kind of assault or insult against our Prophet. I condemn and oppose all who [...] insult our Prophet," Morsi, on an official visit to Brussels, said in remarks broadcast by Egyptian state television.
"[But] it is our duty to protect our guests and visitors from abroad [...] I call on everyone to take that into consideration, not to violate Egyptian law [...] not to assault embassies," he added. "Those attacking embassies do not represent us."
Morsi also condemned the Tuesday attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.
"We condemn what happened in Benghazi," Morsi said.
"We all know that killing innocent people goes against Islam. The freedom to express opinions and demonstrate [...] are guaranteed but without attacks on private or public property, diplomatic missions or embassies," he continued.
Morsi said he had spoken with US President Barack Obama and told him that it was necessary to put in place "legal measures that will discourage those seeking to damage relations [...] between the Egyptian and American people."
The Egyptian Cabinet on Wednesday urged the Egyptian people to exercise restraint, saying in a statement read by Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil at a press conference, "The film is offensive to the Prophet and is immoral."
He added, "We appeal to the great people of Egypt to exercise restraint in expressing their anger."
Dr. Mahmoud Ghozlan, official spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood, told Al-Shorfa that peaceful protest is a legitimate right for all Egyptians, especially when their faith is slighted.
"We are for peaceful protests but reject any form of intrusion into embassies, and reject the taking down of the American flag from atop the embassy," he said.
A number of activists who joined the demonstrations in Cairo called for restraint and condemned the use of violence as a means of expressing opinions.
"The peaceful demonstrations came as an expression of [Egyptians'] anger […] at the affront to the person of the Prophet Mohammad and Islam, the religion of love and tolerance," Coptic activist Ayman George told Al-Shorfa.
George added that the attack on the US embassy in Libya is a source of great sadness for the demonstrators in Cairo, and that everyone is trying to keep the demonstrations peaceful and not attack diplomatic missions in Egypt.
Political activist George Ishak told Al-Shorfa that the attacks on US embassies are "very unfortunate because guiltless, innocent people were killed", adding that the use of violence as a means of expression negates the merits of peaceful protest and squanders the demonstrators' rights and the message they carry.
"Christians demonstrating alongside Muslims against the affront to Islam is an expression of the Egyptian people's desire to uphold citizenship over any crisis, and their respect for each other's religion," he said.
Issam Derbala, an Islamic Group leader, said all Muslims and Arabs have the right to demonstrate peacefully to express their position against the defamation of the Prophet.
"Violence is not the solution", he told Al-Shorfa, adding that there are rules governing peaceful demonstrations that must be adhered to, including non-violation of the sanctity of embassies in Egyptian territories, which the government "is committed to protecting in compliance with the international conventions that Egypt is a signatory to," he said.
"Coptic Christians rejected this behaviour and stood in defence of Islam, which will help solidify the spirit of tolerance that exists among the Egyptian people," he added.
Libyans protest killing of US ambassador
Many Libyans took to the streets on Wednesday to condemn the Consulate attack.
Bearing signs with slogans such as "Chris Stevens was a friend to all Libyans", "Thugs and killers don't represent Benghazi nor Islam", and "This does not represent us", the demonstrators marched simultaneously in Algeria Square in Tripoli and al-Shajara Square in Benghazi and denounced the use of weapons and violence.
Libya AlHurra, a Libyan television station, posted images of the protest on its facebook page. The page also carried a statement signed by Libyan bloggers and civil society activists describing the attack as a "heinous crime" and a violation of "Islamic sharia, traditions and an assault on international conventions."