CAIRO -- The Egyptian government said Wednesday that it strongly condemned a movie ridiculing the prophet Muhammad that triggered violent protests in Cairo and Benghazi, Libya, but called for "self-restraint" among those outraged by the film.
Prime Minister Hesham Kandil told Egyptians that the U.S. government had nothing to do with the video and said the riot Tuesday at the American Embassy in Cairo was unacceptable. However, Kandil went on to urge the United States to take a firm stand against those who produced the film, saying it should act under international agreements against inciting racist and religious strife.
In a later statement, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi "condemned the transgression upon the prophet and ordered the Egyptian Embassy in Washington to take appropriate legal measures against the producers of the film," his spokesman Yasser Ali said Wednesday.
The Tuesday protests in Cairo were fueled by anger over an amateur movie screened on a Salafist-run television channel that depicted the Islamic prophet and his followers as “child lovers.” The film was produced by an American who told the Associated Press that Islam was "a cancer, period."
In Cairo, protesters scaled the embassy walls and tore down an American flag; hours later in Benghazi, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and and three other Americans died as a mob attacked and burned the American consulate.
In the aftermath of the protests, the Egyptian prosecutor general put Morris Sadek, a Coptic Christian in the U.S. who authorities say promoted the film online, on a travel watch list, along with Florida pastor Terry Jones, who has backed the movie, saying it reveals “the destructive ideology of Islam.”
Egyptian state media reported eight other Copts living abroad were also put on the list. The Copts and Jones are wanted for questioning by Egyptian authorities because several lawyers filed complaints against them related to the movie and for allegedly defaming Islam and insulting the prophet.Morsi, a conservative Islamist, was elected this year in polls that pitted the Muslim Brotherhood member against an official who served in the toppled regime of Hosni Mubarak.
"Morsi is in a very critical situation," said Khalil Anani, a Middle East scholar at Durham University in Britain. "On the one hand, he has to stress the responsibility of the state on protecting all diplomatic buildings. However, on the other hand, any harsh reaction against protesters might hurt his 'Islamist' credentials and will put him face to face with extreme Islamists."
"Hence, he needs to reconcile between his Islamist background and his position as the chief responsible person in the country," Anani said.Libyan officials spoke out strongly against the violence, condemning the deadly Tuesday attack as a cowardly crime and pledging to investigate. President Mohamed Magariaf apologized for the deaths.
-- Reem Abdellatif in Cairo and Emily Alpert in Los Angeles. Ned Parker in Cairo contributed.
Photo: Egyptian soldiers sit at one entrance to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo on Wednesday, one day after Islamist protesters scaled its walls. Credit: Khaled Elfiqi / European Pressphoto Agency.