CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian Christian who promoted a film that has provoked protests in the region over its portrayal of Prophet Mohammad said on Wednesday he was sorry that U.S. diplomats were killed and said Muslims who objected should do so peacefully.
Morris Sadek, speaking by phone from the United States where he lives, also told Reuters that his objective in backing the film was to highlight discrimination against Christians who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 83 million people.
Protesters who blamed the United States for allowing the film to be made, scaled the walls of the U.S. embassy in Cairo and tore down the American flag. In Libya, gunmen attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and killed the U.S. ambassador and three other diplomats.
Asked if he felt sorry about the deaths, Sadek said: “Of course, of course, of course. Thought should be answered by thought,” adding that he did not consider the film titled “Innocence of Muslims” as offensive to Islam.
Protesters in Egypt chanted Sadek’s name because of his support for the film, which presented the Prophet as a bloodthirsty womanizer and religious fake, among other characterizations that deeply offended many Muslims who consider any depiction of the Prophet as blasphemous.
Clips of the film have been circulating on the Internet for weeks. The film gained further prominence when U.S. pastor Terry Jones, who angered Muslims with threats to burn the Koran in 2010, lent his support for the film.
Sadek said he was most concerned to encourage people to see the first part of the film, which includes scenes of an angry mob of Islamists trashing a clinic belonging to a Christian while the Egyptian police do nothing to stop them.
“I am only (leading) a Coptic organization that promoted the film. I am only interested in the first part about persecution of Copts,” said Sadek, who heads a group called the National American Coptic Assembly and who posted a statement promoting the film on behalf of the assembly on his blog.
He confirmed that writer and director Sam Bacile was behind the film, describing him as an “American”.
He accused Egypt’s government of supporting the protesters in Cairo, who were a mixture of Islamists and “ultras”, who are dedicated soccer fans who played a big role in battling police during an uprising last year that deposed Hosni Mubarak.
“The government helped the protesters and gave them the space to protest, but not peacefully, and to carry out violence against ideas,” he said.
Many Copts - Egyptian Christians - have been alarmed by the rise of Islamists, who had been suppressed by Mubarak. President Mohamed Mursi, Egypt’s first freely elected leader, hails from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Mursi’s government has condemned the embassy assault as unjustified and four people accuse of scaling the walls have now been arrested. The government has also called for legal action against those behind the film for insulting religious beliefs.
Egypt’s Christians have long complained of discrimination, citing issues such as laws that make it easier to build a mosque than a church. They say they have second-class status in government jobs and other areas of life.
“I tell Egyptians to share government, not with words but with action,” Sadek said. “If you insist on persecuting Copts everyone will lose Egypt.”
Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Louise Ireland