Egypt Explores Limits Of Tolerance For Free Speech

More than 20 countries saw protests this week against a low-budget film, posted online, that many Muslims found insulting and blasphemous. After days of protests outside the U.S. Embassy in Egypt, things seem to be calming down there.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We turn now to Egypt where, as we mentioned earlier, the protest started this week. More than 250 people have been reported injured in clashes there that began when protesters scaled the embassy wall in Cairo and tore down an American flag. Many of them are demonstrating against a film, which portrayed the prophet Muhammad as a womanizer and a religious fraud.

In California, a man linked to the film's production, Nakouli Basseley Nakoula has been interviewed by probation officers, but he has not been arrested or detained. Kimberly Adams reports that in Cairo things seem to be calming down.

KIMBERLY ADAMS, BYLINE: Early Saturday morning, black-clad riot police cleared the remaining protesters from Cairo's Tahrir Square. Rubble littered the streets around the American embassy after four days of demonstrations that left one dead and hundreds injured. Even though the protesters are no longer fighting with police, as they were on Friday, there's worry that now Egyptians will shift their anger from the United States to the Coptic Christian minority.

A Coptic Egyptian expatriate is believed to be behind the film, and 27 year-old Moussa Radwan, outside the embassy on Friday, wants him punished.

MOUSSA RADWAN: (Through Translator) I'm here in the square demanding first stripping citizenship from the Diaspora Copts.

ADAMS: Forty-five year-old Adel Bulos, a Coptic Christian teacher also at the Friday protests, wants the filmmakers charged with contempt of religion.

ADEL BULOS: (Through Translator) No one should insult any citizen or religious icon. I'm here with Egyptians, not Muslims nor Christians because who insulted one insulted all Egyptians,

ADAMS: Joel Benin is professor of Middle East history at Stanford University.

JOEL BENIN: Egyptians would be likely to say something like, well, yes, of course we have freedom of speech and freedom of the press, but you can't insult religion. Well, OK, that's not then, freedom of speech and freedom of the press as we would understand it, but the great majority of Egyptians would feel quite comfortable with that restriction.

ADAMS: As Egypt explores the limits of its tolerance for freedom of expression, the area around the American embassy remains under tight security.

For NPR News, I'm Kimberly Adams in Cairo.

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