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While the Nour party holds the second-largest bloc in Egyptian parliament to Mr. Morsi’s more mainstream Muslim Brotherhood, doctrinal and political differences exist between the two.

Mr. Morsi may be more likely to use his first appearance as president before the U.N. to focus on other regional issues, such as Egypt’s potential role as a mediator in Syria’s civil war.

Free-speech and human rights advocates were watching the United Nations closely in anticipation of a charged debate about free speech within the context of the “Innocence of Muslims” film.

“The behavior of an anti-Islam propagandist, as hurtful as it may be to the religious sensitivities of some Muslims, should not be used as a justification to curtail core freedoms or justify potential government repression,” said Sanjeev Bery, an advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International USA.

His comments echo a statement that the U.S. government issued to the U.N. in 2008, asserting that “the concept of ‘defamation of religions’ is not supported by international law.”

“There have been numerous reports that this concept is being used in some member states to justify torture, imprisonment and other forms of abuse,” said the statement, which was made after the General Assembly’s 2007 passage of a nonbinding resolution titled “Combating defamation of religions.”

The resolution stated that “everyone has the right to freedom of expression,” and put forth a wide set of conditions under which such freedom could be curtailed.

“[It] should be exercised with responsibility and may therefore be subject to limitations, according to law and necessary for respect of the rights or reputations of others; protection of national security or of public order, public health or morals; and respect for religions and beliefs,” the resolution stated.

‘The film is an excuse’

The language pitted the U.S. and much of Europe against Middle Eastern and some African and Latin American nations that had pushed for the measure and ultimately paved the way for a carefully reworded 2011 U.N. Human Rights Council Resolution that focused less on defamation and more on prohibiting discrimination.

The 2011 resolution is titled “Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief.”

While some conservative groups in the United States criticized the Obama administration for backing the 2011 resolution, free-speech advocates generally have embraced it.

Courtney C. Radsch, program manager for the Global Freedom of Expression Campaign at Freedom House, said the 2011 development shifted the discussion at the U.N. away “from this attempt to create an international blasphemy law and instead focused it on combating religious intolerance at the ground level.”

The problem with the earlier resolution, Ms. Radsch said, was that it equated “religious discrimination, which is a real human rights issue, with this vague concept of defamation, not to mention the issue of who decides what constitutes blasphemy or what constitutes defamation.”

She said it “remains to be seen” whether Muslim leaders will try to renew calls for a blasphemy law this week. “I think there’s a lot of talk about it because of everything that’s been happening with this video being used as an excuse to insight violence on the ground,” she said.

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