Czech-Arab relations tense in wake of cartoon dispute

Czech efforts to get the EU to take a united stand in condemning Islamic violence in the wake of the controversy over caricatures of the prophet Mohammed have failed to bear fruit - only increasing tension between the Czech Republic and Arab states. Moreover, a number of Arab countries have protested against a documentary on the life of Moslems featured on Czech television, which they say shows Moslems as dangerous radicals.

Foreign minister Cyril Svoboda,  photo: CTK
Reports claiming that the Czech Republic is actively harming Arab interests and broadcasting untruths about Islam appeared in three state owned Egyptiasn papers this week -the Al Gomhuriah, Al Akhbar and the Egyptian Gazzette. Although the reports did not spark street protests the editor in chief of the Egyptian Gazzette warned that a boycott of Czech products could easily happen. This on the day that Czech minister Cyril Svoboda was vainly attempting to rally EU support behind a statement condemning Islamic radicalism. Richard Krpac is from the Foreign Ministry's press department:

"The Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda did his best to persuade his EU partners in Brussels to take a more principled stance on this issue. Unfortunately our opinion did not prevail and obviously we will follow the position agreed on by all EU countries."

The Czech foreign ministry pressed for a tougher line from the EU on the grounds that a show of disunity or weakness would allegedly only fuel Islamic radicalism. But not everyone feels that this was a wise move. Political analyst Vladimira Dvorakova says that such a statement would only have aggravated the tension.

"It was not a good proposal for the solution of the situation. At this moment I think that all European diplomacy is concentrated on stopping the conflict, on making the situation better, which means not exaggerating the problem."

Mohammad Abbas from Sudan has lived in this country for 18 years now - and we asked him how he sees the situation:

"My feeling is that the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not represent the views and feelings of the Czech people. It is more radical than the people I meet in the street. I as a Moslem in the Czech Republic don't see a problem here. Czech people who I meet, people in the street - they are very tolerant, maybe more than in other countries. People accept you as you are and I hope that in time the Czech Republic will correct its foreign affairs policy so as to be more friendly."

The Egyptian Gazette has just slammed a documentary featured on Czech TV about the lives of Moslems. Did you see it and how do you feel about it - does it present you in a bad light?

"Yes, it was very unbalanced. It is not typical of what Czech TV shows about Islam. There have been many good programmes. I have the feeling that this documentary was manipulated. It tries to inflame Islam-phobic feelings. It tries to say that Islam is dangerous for the Czech Republic and dangerous for Czechs. So beware of the Moslems who are among you."