Egypt appears to be trying to make the crime of "offending Islam" a worldwide one. Or perhaps it just wishes to offer a bone to the mob. Its prosecutor-general has put out an arrest warrant for two Canadians and several other Coptic Christians allegedly involved in the making of Innocence of Muslims, the anti-Prophet Mohammed film that has sparked deadly riots in some Muslim countries.
It may be primarily a symbolic gesture, but it does, in effect, put people on notice everywhere that taking issue with Islam is a dangerous thing to do. The prosecutor says the charges in the warrant (which also include causing sectarian violence and harming Egyptian independence) carry a possible death sentence.
This is a strange approach for a nascent democracy, and a bad signal from the Muslim Brotherhood, which holds power. They seem to think that democracy means giving vent to the popular will, or elements of it, even if those elements are behaving as a mob. Since does one democracy purport to tell people in other democracies that if they speak out in certain ways, they could be charged and even put to death?
The arrest warrant may also be a way of intimidating Coptic Christian activists and silencing them about discrimination against that minority in Egypt. The two Canadians cited in the warrant say they had no involvement in the film; one had publicly denounced the film in a statement from the Middle East Christian Association.
Of course Canada would not extradite the men to Egypt. But their travels in the Arab and Muslim world must surely now be limited. And who knows what drastic consequences having one's name on such an infamous list could have.
Strangely, Canada still has a law against blasphemous libel in the Criminal Code – section 296 – though no one has been prosecuted under it since 1936. (During a prosecution in the 1920s, this newspaper editorialized strongly in favour of the blasphemy law.) There were five attempts to enforce that law in Canadian history. This law deserves a cozy retirement in a nice museum. That would make it easier for Canada to speak out against the archaic blasphemy laws in other countries.
This country should make it clear to Egypt that Canada does not appreciate the threat, symbolic or otherwise, of prosecution and death against its people.