Egypt’s president has spoken of his belief in the “sacred” nature of religion during a discussion about free speech and the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed at a media event with France’s Emmanuel Macron.
The French leader and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi held a joint press conference at the Elysee Palace during a state visit by the Egyptian president on Monday.
While the two praised one another for their efforts in challenging Islamic extremism, they also expressed opposing views on the role of religion and free speech, stemming from the circulating of controversial cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, which many Muslims find blasphemous.
Following a question by a journalist concerning the publication of the drawings by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Sisi underlined the “sacred” character of religion, which he believes “has supremacy over human values.”
He added that he is concerned by the erosion of religious values and the prospect of offending millions of people if the supremacy of religion is not upheld.
However, the French president took a different view. In France, he said, “we consider that nothing can be above man and respect for the dignity of the human person”, adding “it is the contribution of the philosophy of the Enlightenment.”
Macron claimed that the separation of politics and religion was hugely important to France’s identity.
In France a journalist, a cartoonist, writes and draws freely. It is not the President of the Republic who tells him what to do, nor anybody whatsoever. And it has been like that for a long time.
In the wake of the murder of French teacher Samuel Paty by a radicalized teenager in the outskirts of Paris in October, Macron and his government embarked on a crackdown on Islamic extremism.
The French president drew the ire of Muslims around the world following his declaration that Islam is “in crisis” and his staunch refusal to denounce Charlie Hedbo’s cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, instead defending freedom of expression.
Sisi was one of many to disagree with Macron but stopped short of heavily criticizing his French counterpart — unlike other Muslim leaders such as Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“If some have the freedom to express what is in their thoughts, I imagine that this stops when it comes to offending the feelings of more than 1.5 billion people,” the Egyptian president said.
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