By Marwa Awad
CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's president and other Muslim leaders should demand the U.N. criminalize contempt of religion after the release of an anti-Islamic film and cartoons which demonstrate growing racism, said the leader of the biggest ultra-orthodox Islamist party.
Despite doctrinal and political differences with President Mohamed Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafist Nour Party played a key role in supporting it during presidential elections in June.
Led by Emad Abdel Ghaffour, it now ranks as the second-largest party in parliament and plays a formidable force in Egypt's new politics.
"We call for legislation or a resolution to criminalize contempt of Islam as a religion and its Prophet," said Ghaffour, one of four permanent assistants to the president, on Saturday.
"The voice of reason in the West will prevail if there is mutual respect, dialogue and efficient lobbying for this critical resolution," he told Reuters in an interview.
Leaders and their entourages from the 193-nation United Nations General Assembly descend on U.N. headquarters in New York for the world body's annual "general debate" from September 25-October 1.
Mursi will make his Assembly debut along with the new leaders of Libya, Yemen and Tunisia, countries where Islamist parties have moved to the heart of government.
The recent violent unrest in some Muslim countries caused by anger at the anti-Islam film made in California and the French cartoons published by satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo is expected to be a closely watched theme.
A few dozen Egyptians protested near the French embassy in Cairo on Friday, but were kept away from the premises by police. The Nour Party and other mainstream Islamic leaders expressed outrage, but have urged a peaceful response.
Muslim protests in Pakistan turned violent with at least 15 people killed on Friday, after demonstrations in several Muslim countries a week earlier, including attacks on U.S. and other Western embassies and the killing of the U.S. envoy to Libya.
"A proposal to look into the root causes of the obvious racism against Muslims and Arabs as the recent fierce campaign against their Islamic beliefs shows is much needed," said Ghaffour.
Ghaffour blamed interest groups for trying to sow discord between Western countries and newly-elected Islamist governments in the Middle East by defaming Islam.
"A new reality in the Middle East has emerged after the toppling of autocratic regime of Hosni Mubarak and others through democratic elections that brought newly-elected Islamist governments," said Ghaffour.
"There are interest groups who seek to escalate hatred to show newly-elected governments and their Muslim electorate as undemocratic."
His Nour Party plans to produce a documentary film on the life of the Prophet for global release in an effort to counter the California-made film.
Salafis follow a puritanical school of Islam that was revived in Egypt in the 1970s by university students inspired by the 19th century Wahhabi teaching in Saudi Arabia.
Repressed under the rule of Mubarak, the Nour Party emerged from Daawa al-Salafiya (Salafi Call), a movement that has previously only backed preaching, not politics, to spread its purist interpretation of Islam.
Analysts believe Egypt's Salafi movement, whose followers typically wear long beards, has a devoted following of 3 million people and may control 4,000 mosques nationwide. Egypt has around 108,000 mosques and smaller places of worship.
Last week, Ghaffour told U.S. President Barack Obama's Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough in a telephone call that while almost all Egyptians denounced the U.S.-made anti-Islam film, most of the country's leaders and population shunned the violent reactions seen in other countries.
Early in September, the Obama administration planned to go to Congress with a $1 billion debt relief plan to help Egypt stabilize its economy and grow its private sector.
(Writing by Marwa Awad; Editing by Sophie Hares)