The neighbourhood near the French embassy in Tunis, September 20. Photo by @imedBensaied
France has ordered the closure of its embassies, schools, and embassies Friday in 20 countries, mostly in the Muslim world. The French government is worried that these institutions could be targeted during protests against French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo’s publication of incendiary cartoons representing the Prophet Mohammed. We asked three French expatriates living in Muslim countries what they thought of these measures.
Hundreds of Iranian protesters yelled, “Death to the US!”, “Death to Israel!”, “Death to France!” on Thursday during a protest in front of the French embassy in Tehran. The same slogans were used on the outskirts of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, where 300 students were protesting both the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and the “Innocence of Islam” film. Protests against this video sparked a wave of violence in the Muslim world and led to the deaths of over two dozen people. Demonstrations are expected to spread on Friday, which is a day of prayer in the Muslim world.

EGYPT: “If someone in the street asks me what nationality I am, I will say I’m German”

Julien Noël manages a French supermarket in Cairo, where he has lived for seven years. He currently resides in Maadi, a neighbourhood in the south of the capital, located near the French high school.
For the week or so, all the protests against the US-made anti-Islam film have been taking place in Tahrir Square, just like they did during the revolution. So on Friday and during the weekend, I will not change my usual routine, but I will avoid going through the square. Otherwise, I am not scared of going out into the streets because I don’t feel targeted for being French.
Last week, as I was walking home, I ran into an anti-US protest. One of the protesters asked me what my nationality was. When I told him, he said, “The French are the best!” Still, after I heard about Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons, I told myself that if someone in the street asks me this again, I will say I’m German. I’m probably being over-careful, as I have noticed that people here don’t tend to confuse a publication with an entire country – I spoke about the caricatures with two of my employees, who didn’t seem to be mad at me about it at all.

TUNISIA: “If people here decide to protest, they’ll do so by targeting institutions like French schools or the embassy – they won’t go directly go after French people”

Marie Bouazzi is a former president of the French expatriates’ organisation ADFE and a former math professor. Now retired, she has lived in Tunis for 36 years; her husband is Tunisian.
We shouldn’t be giving such importance to the Salafists [radical Islamists] who are protesting. They are a minority and do not represent the Tunisian population as a whole. However, they are capable of stirring up a lot of trouble, so I do think it’s a good idea that the French authorities ordered the closure of schools, consulates, and embassies. Some of them are capable of being very violent, so it’s best to avoid taking any risks.
The French population of Tunisia is divided in their reaction to this. Some are very afraid that Charlie Hebdo’s caricatures will make them personally targets of violence. Publishing these cartoons was certainly very irresponsible, but I know this country well, and I know that if people decide to protest against them, they’ll do so by targeting institutions like schools or the embassy – they won’t go directly go after French people.

AFGHANISTAN: “Just like usual, we’ll try to be as discreet as possible to avoid any problems”

Brice lives in Kabul, Afghanistan.
It’s all a question of how you behave: tomorrow, I’m not going to go tell any Afghan that I’m French with a big smile on my face. But other than that, this shouldn’t change much. Just like usual, we’ll try to be as discreet as possible to avoid any problems. This may sound weird to people back in Europe, but for us, it’s just our way of life here.
My company regularly alerts its employees about which roads we should avoid. We’re used to this kind of situation. Every week, there are big protests here.
The closure of schools and of the embassy won’t change much for us, since Friday is a day of rest in Afghanistan. But I’ll see how things develop after the morning prayer before venturing outside. My friends and I had planned a visit to the north of Kabul this weekend, but I think we might have to cancel!
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalists Peggy Bruguière and Alexandre Capron.