Egypt wades into Swedish cartoons row

London, England - Egypt has added its voice to the chorus of protests against Sweden, following the publication of a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad in a local Swedish newspaper.

The Egyptian ministry of religious endowments yesterday denounced the Swedish cartoon, representing the prophet's head on a dog's body, as "irresponsible and offensive", according to the Kuwaiti news agency Kuna.

"Such an irresponsible act is not conducive to friendly ties between the Islamic world and the west," the Egyptian ministry said.

Jordan also today condemned the publication in the cartoon.

"The publication of this cartoon, which seeks to attack the character of the Prophet Muhammad, is unacceptable, rejected and condemned," government spokesman Nasser Jawdeh told reporters.

"Such cartoons do not serve inter-faith dialogue and co-existence, in which Jordan believes."

Egypt and Jordan are the latest countries to protest against the publication last month of a Muhammad cartoon in Nerikes Allehanda, a local newspaper in Örebro, a city in southern central Sweden.

Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan protested against the cartoon's publication last week, together with the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, an international body representing 57 nations.

Nerikes Allehanda published the hand-drawn sketch, made by Swedish artist Lars Vilks, following a row in the Nordic country this summer over Mr Vilks' attempt to exhibit his series of drawings about Muhammad.

At least two galleries declined to show the pictures, citing security fears. Alongside the picture, Nerikes Allehanda printed a leader regretting the galleries' "self-censorship".

The row is now developing into an international crisis, with the Swedish prime minister having to intervene.

"We are eager to ensure that Sweden remains a country in which Muslims and Christians ... can live side by side in a spirit of mutual respect," the prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, told news agency TT last week.

However, Mr Reinfeldt added that Sweden would defend freedom of expression.

"We are also eager to stand up for freedom of expression, which is enshrined in the constitution ... which ensures that we do not make political decisions about what gets published in newspapers," he said.

At the weekend, top Swedish national daily Dagens Nyheter said in a leader that "[Sweden] has a duty from now on to defend its principles and present an open dialogue".

Mr Vilks has said he has begun receiving death threats. At least two demonstrations have taken place in front of Nerikes Allehanda's office to protest against the cartoon's publication.