“The Church has to reveal its position clearly,” Warith said. “Either it disclaims itself from those who produced the movie or it remains silent and that means they condone it.” By Sept. 8, other newspapers started picking up the story. Al Youm al Sabaa ran another story, this time noting that Egyptian politicians criticized the movie.
But the story remained off the front pages, still considered a local piece about an Egyptian in America fueling a sectarian crisis here, not about how the West treats Islam. That was the case until last Sunday, when Khalid Abdullah, the premier commentator for al Nas, a popular Salafist television station, aired the clip on his show.
Abdullah’s co-host, Mohammed Hamdy, introduced the topic by apologizing for what he was about to share with his audience. He noted that the Coptic Christian church had condemned the movie, Sadek and Florida pastor Terry Jones, who Girgis wrote backed the movie as well. Jones’ threats to burn Qurans inflamed Muslims in 2010 and 2011.
The Coptic condemnation was important to note, Abdullah said, because “some will say we are inciting violence against Copts to create sectarianism” by airing the clip. The scene aired on al Nas blurred the face of the woman in accord with Salafist beliefs that a man should not engage with an uncovered woman who is not his wife. But it left the man’s image clear, even though Muslims are forbidden to make any attempt to recreate Mohammed.
“What is this stupidity?” Abdullah asked, after the station aired the clip, concluding later that the creators of the film “want to inflame Egypt.” Abdullah asked if anyone had apologized for creating such a film. His co-host responded, “An apology is not enough. I want them convicted.”
That same day, the Mufti of Al Azhar University, the chief source of Sunni Islamic thought in the Arab world, condemned the clip for “insulting the prophet” and noting it was produced by “Copts living abroad.”
Facebook pages started appearing, urging Islamists and youth to protest Tuesday, the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Jones had called for putting Muhammad on trial that day in a web message, which is why, protest organizers said, they scheduled it for that day. Calls started coming into the U.S. embassy as well, catching everyone there by surprise.
“People were writing to us asking what the role of the U.S. government has in this video. What are you going to do? Who produced this?” said one U.S. official at the embassy who did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “Our initial response was: What video?”
But as the embassy learned about the planned protests and the video’s content, officials there said, they immediately recognized the potential problem. They called leaders of the groups calling for the protest and apologized for the film. They told them the film does not represent how Americans see Islam. In a statement posted on the embassy’s web page, they condemned the video.
It was too late. Nader Bakkar, a spokesman for the conservative Islamist Nour Party and one of those who received a phone call from the embassy in the hours before the scheduled protest, said there was no going back. It was now a religious duty to defend the prophet, he said.