Cultural Clash Fuels Muslims Raging at Film

CAIRO — Stepping from the cloud of tear gas in front of the American Embassy here, Khaled Ali repeated the urgent question that he said justified last week’s violent protests at United States outposts around the Muslim world.

“We never insult any prophet — not Moses, not Jesus — so why can’t we demand that Muhammad be respected?” Mr. Ali, a 39-year-old textile worker said, holding up a handwritten sign in English that read “Shut Up America.” “Obama is the president, so he should have to apologize!”

When the protests against an American-made online video mocking the Prophet Muhammad exploded in about 20 countries, the source of the rage was more than just religious sensitivity, political demagogy or resentment of Washington, protesters and their sympathizers here said. It was also a demand that many of them described with the word “freedom,” although in a context very different from the term’s use in the individualistic West: the right of a community, whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish, to be free from grave insult to its identity and values.

In a context where insults to religion are crimes and the state has tightly controlled almost all media, many in Egypt, like other Arab countries, sometimes find it hard to understand that the American government feels limited by its free speech rules from silencing even the most noxious religious bigot.

Some commentators said they regretted that the violence here and around the region had overshadowed the underlying argument against the offensive video. “Our performance came out like that of a failed lawyer in a no-lose case,” Wael Kandil, an editor of the newspaper Sharouq, wrote in a column on Sunday. “We served our opponents something that made them drop the main issue and take us to the margins — this is what we accomplished with our bad performance.”

Embassies close in Yemen, America reviews its security approaches

Threats from al-Qaida in the Arabian Penninsula caused the British and American Embassies in Sana’a to close their doors. Intelligence indicated impending attacks beginning three weeks ago.

The American Embassy is no stranger to terrorist threats. Al-Qaida set off a car bomb in September 2008 that killed 19 people, and shootout occurred in January 2009 between police and men in a car near the embassy. The American military has since increased security aid to Yemen. General Petraeus suggests increasing it to $150 millon in 2010.

There are clashes between Obama’s security team and members of the Bush Administration’s team, with Vice Presidenty Cheney accusing Obama of neglecting terrorism issues. Obama’s counterterrorism chief John Brennan accused Cheney of being ignorant of Obama’s plans for handling al-Qaida.