SIDON/BEIRUT/TRIPOLI: Protesters across the country took to the streets Friday to voice their anger at a film insulting Islam’s Prophet Mohammad as security was bolstered to avert possible violence.
Around 1,000 supporters of Sheikh Ahmad Assir protested in Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square amid tight security measures that included police and Army personnel blocking traffic on roads leading to the protest.
Tens of people gathered at the Mohammad Amin Mosque carrying an oversized pre-Baath Syrian flag, which has become a symbol of the Syrian uprising against President Bashar Assad.
Women and men sat on plastic chairs and held up anti-Zionist signs as Lebanese singer Fadel Shaker dedicated songs to the “free people of Hama and Homs.”
Some of the signs read: “Spiteful Zionists, die of jealousy” and “We sacrifice [our] mothers and fathers for you, O messenger of God.”
Assir delivered a speech in which he said that even when provoked, insulted and oppressed, the Prophet Mohammad retained his patience and forbearance, and that this is how Muslims today should behave.
He also accused Western countries of being the true extremists: "Countries that allow the presence of such extremists ... are extremist themselves."
However, he added that true Christians were not responsible in any way for actions by Western individuals or countries.
"Christians have nothing to with such insults; they are above those who insulted us ... this applies particularly to our Christian partners in Lebanon," he said, going on to praise Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai and President Michel Sleiman for condemning the film.
In east Lebanon, demonstrators also gathered to protest “Innocence of Muslims,” the low-budget film that insults the prophet and has sparked a spate of demonstrations, some of which were violent, against U.S. and foreign missions around the world.
The Baalbek protest was organized by Hezbollah as part of a series of protests this week.
In a rare public appearance Monday urging people to protest, Hezbollah’s Secretary General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah warned of worldwide repercussions if the full version of the movie is released.
In Tripoli, north Lebanon, protests did not take place due to the heavy security measures around the city, particularly French institutions including schools, cultural centers and banks.
Last week in Tripoli, one protester was killed and 15 policemen were injured when stick-wielding and stone-throwing demonstrators protesting “Innocence of Muslims” clashed with Lebanese security. Protestors also set ablaze fast food establishments KFC and Hardee’s, which are housed in the same building.
Thirty minutes prior to the end of Friday’s prayer when usually demonstrations begin, Tripoli's police chief said that 14 people have been arrested over last week's attack on the American fast food restaurants KFC and Hardee’s during protests in the northern city against the anti-Islam film.
Meanwhile, In the Ras al-Nabaa neighborhood of Beirut and in the southern coastal city of Sidon, angry protesters burned U.S. and Israeli flags, chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”
In Sidon, Sheikh Maher Hammoud called on all Muslims capable of killing the filmmaker to do so.
“Every Muslim capable of killing the insulter of our religion, the producer of this film, should do so,” the sheikh said, comparing his fatwa to the one issued against Salman Rushdie, author of “The Satanic Verses.”
In 1989, Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini declared Rushdie's novel “blasphemous” and called for his death.
The Sidon protesters chanted slogans calling for the death of the filmmaker who produced “Innocence of Muslims.”
In Ras al-Nabaa, demonstrators carrying flags of the Youth Party for Arab Lebanon burned U.S. and Israeli flags, a few miles away from the French Embassy, which was closed Friday.
The French Cultural Center closed its branches in the southern coastal city of Sidon as well as the northern city of Tripoli Friday. French schools across the country also closed Friday.
The French cultural centers had announced that they would close Friday, fearing protests in response to the publication Wednesday by French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo of cartoons depicting the prophet.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Wednesday that his government had stepped up security at embassies in countries where there could be a hostile reaction to the cartoons.
Security around the American Embassy in Lebanon has been boosted since protests over the film erupted.
Currently, a 14-minute preview is available on YouTube, though it is inaccessible in several predominantly Muslim countries.- With additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari, Antoine Amrieh, and Dana Khraiche