France urges Arab nations to prevent boycotts over Macron's cartoons defence

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Empty shelves were seen where French products were displayed at Kuwaiti supermarketsImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
Some shops in Kuwait had stripped their shelves of French-made products by Sunday

France has urged Middle Eastern countries to end calls for a boycott of its goods in protest at President Emmanuel Macron's defence of the right to show cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

The French foreign ministry said the "baseless" calls for a boycott were being "pushed by a radical minority".

French products have been removed from some shops in Kuwait, Jordan and Qatar.

Meanwhile, protests have been seen in Libya, Syria and the Gaza Strip.

The backlash stems from comments made by Mr Macron after the gruesome murder of a French teacher who showed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in class.

The president said the teacher, Samuel Paty, "was killed because Islamists want our future", but France would "not give up our cartoons".

Depictions of the Prophet Muhammad are widely regarded as taboo in Islam, and are offensive to Muslims.

But state secularism - or laïcité - is central to France's national identity. Curbing freedom of expression to protect the feelings of one particular community, the state says, undermines unity.

On Sunday, Mr Macron doubled down on his defence of French values in a tweet that read: "We will not give in, ever."

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Political leaders in Turkey and Pakistan have rounded on Mr Macron, accusing him of not respecting "freedom of belief" and marginalising the millions of Muslims in France.

On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested, for a second time, that Mr Macron should seek "mental checks" for his views on Islam.

How widespread is the boycott on French products?

Some supermarket shelves had been stripped of French products in Jordan, Qatar and Kuwait by Sunday. French-made hair and beauty items, for example, were not on display.

In Kuwait, a major retail union has ordered a boycott of French goods.

The non-governmental Union of Consumer Co-operative Societies said it had issued the directive in response to "repeated insults" against the Prophet Muhammad.

In a statement, the French foreign ministry acknowledged the moves, writing: "These calls for boycott are baseless and should stop immediately, as well as all attacks against our country, which are being pushed by a radical minority."

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Calls for a boycott on French products have been circulating online in Arab countries

Online, calls for similar boycotts in other Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, have been circulating.

A hashtag calling for the boycott of French supermarket chain Carrefour was the second-most trending topic in Saudi Arabia, the Arab world's largest economy.

Meanwhile, small anti-French protests were held in Libya, Gaza and northern Syria, where Turkish-backed militias exert control.

Why is France embroiled in this row?

Mr Macron's robust defence of French secularism and criticism of radical Islam in the wake of Mr Paty's killing has angered some in the Muslim world.

Turkey's Mr Erdogan asked in a speech: "What's the problem of the individual called Macron with Islam and with the Muslims?"

Meanwhile Pakistani leader Imran Khan accused the French leader of "attacking Islam, clearly without having any understanding of it".

"President Macron has attacked and hurt the sentiments of millions of Muslims in Europe & across the world," he tweeted.

Earlier this month, before the teacher's killing, Mr Macron had already announced plans for tougher laws to tackle what he called "Islamist separatism" in France.

He said a minority of France's estimated six million Muslims were in danger of forming a "counter-society", describing Islam as a religion "in crisis".

Cartoons caricaturing the prophet of Islam have a dark and intensely political legacy in France.

Media caption,
Rallies have been held in Paris, Toulouse, Lyon and other French cities in support of Samuel Paty

In 2015, 12 people were killed in an attack on the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which had published the cartoons.

Some in Western Europe's largest Muslim community have accused Mr Macron of trying to repress their religion and say his campaign risks legitimising Islamophobia.