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New 'Charlie Hebdo' Cover Met With Condemnation, Albeit Measured

Religious and government authorities in the Middle East seem to be trying to tamp down any outrage over the publication of another cartoon of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed in France's Charlie Hebdo magazine.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

When the French magazine Charlie Hebdo came out today, its first issue since the attack, it appeared to reiterate its provocative traditions. The cover features a cartoon of a long-nosed, bearded man wearing a turban - another depiction of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed. He holds a placard reading Je suis Charlie. And above his head are the words all is forgiven.

Around the world, many are trying to interpret that today. In the Middle East, the new cover was met with condemnation from religious figures and other authorities, but so far in rather measured tones. NPR's Leila Fadel joins us now from Cairo to discuss the reaction, and, Leila, what you hearing so far?

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Well, the depiction of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed hasn't been welcomed by any means. But authorities seem intent on tamping down any huge outrage. In Egypt, top religious authorities condemn the publication as provocation, and attempts to show sedition rather than unity. But Al-Azhar, which is the highest institute of Sunni learning in Egypt, called on people to ignore the, quote, "sick renderings rather than to react." Iran's foreign minister called the cover insulting and provocative and said in Geneva today that, quote, "sanctities need to be respected, and unless we learn to respect one another, it will be very difficult in a world of different views and different cultures and civilizations."

Also, Hezbollah in Lebanon said the cartoon insults Muslims and contributes to the support of terrorism. Hamas said America and Israel support the media that published - but, you know, it's important to note that all these countries, institutions and these movements also condemned the attacks on the magazine and the killing of the 12 people.

CORNISH: Has the cartoon been published in local papers?

FADEL: In general, no, it hasn't. We have seen actual attempts to stop the dissemination of the cartoons for so-called public order reasons. In Turkey, one court ordered a ban on websites with the cartoon. And police stopped and then let go of trucks carrying a secular newspaper because they suspected it published the cartoons, which they actually had inside in miniature size inside the newspaper.

In Egypt, the president issued a new decree allowing the prime minister to ban any foreign publications deemed offensive to religion. The law was issued to, quote, "maintain order in the society." These are not free societies. Many people are punished here for saying, blogging, tweeting things that are deemed insulting to faith or leadership, and it's a way for governments to control their populations.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, you're not describing action in the streets, right? I mean, is this very different than past reactions to perceived insults to Islam?

FADEL: Well, yes and no. When a very offensive film was released online in 2012, it prompted really angry protests. But these weren't representative of populations at large. Again, they were smaller, angry protests by a minority. So it's always inconsistent, and there's not always widespread anger in the streets of the Middle East when Western outlets produce depictions of Mohammed, although here it's seen as disrespectful and as insulting. And also, right now, we're in a new political reality in the Middle East, where authoritarian figures have been systematically repressing and jailing Islamists and pretty much all dissenters.

So analysts say it's their opportunity to get the West on board with their repressive tactics. You have Bashar al-Assad saying I told you so from Syria, where tens of thousands of civilians have been killed, and many by his government. So while these leaders aren't really all about free speech, they are worried about consolidating power and are concerned about very real extremism that's growing regionally. Most extremist acts by groups like the so-called Islamic State or al-Qaida are conducted against Muslim populations in mostly Muslim countries.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Leila Fadel in Cairo. Leila, thank you

FADEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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