Le Drian in Egypt, expresses ‘respect’ for Islam

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited Egypt on Sunday and held talks with top Egyptian officials including President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, where he expressed his country’s “deep respect” for Islam.

Le Drian’s visit came in a bid to ease the tension recently sparked by French cartoons of Prophet Muhammad of Islam, which were criticized as offensive by many Muslim states and organizations, including Cairo-based Al-Azhar, the top Islamic institution in Egypt and the Sunni Muslim world.

During his talks with Sisi, the French foreign minister stressed “France’s respect for all religions and their principles and values,” said the Egyptian presidency in a statement.

Le Drian added that Paris is looking forward to enhancing cooperation and consultation with Cairo “to combat the spreading phenomenon of intolerance and extremist ideology.”

For his part, the Egyptian president affirmed the urgent need for all efforts to consolidate the values of coexistence and tolerance among all religions.

Sisi also urged for extending bridges of understanding and brotherhood and avoiding offending religious symbols, “expressing complete rejection of all forms of terrorist acts or linking any religion to acts of violence and extremism,” according to the statement.

Later in the day, the French foreign minister held talks with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry, where they agreed to intensify joint counterterrorism efforts.

“I’ve emphasized, and I emphasize here, the deep respect that we have for Islam. This is the message I carry and will convey when I meet with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar,” Le Drian said in a press conference following the meeting, referring to Al-Azhar chief Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb.

“The Muslims in France are part of the French history and identity,” he continued, “We fight terrorism, we fight misrepresentation of religion and we fight extremism.”

On the other hand, Shoukry said that the talks addressed joint efforts between Egypt, France and international partners in combating and eliminating terrorism and condemning all terrorist and criminal activities.

“I surely affirmed the complete separation between such criminal acts and Islam or any religion. These acts aim at undermining stability and achieving political goals,” the Egyptian foreign minister told reporters.