Fears Over Muhammad Cartoon In Charlie Hebdo Force French Schools To Close In 20 Countries

French schools in up to 20 countries have closed amid fears of a violent backlash against the publication of offensive cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in a French magazine.

A decision was made to close French schools in Egypt as a “precaution” French officials told AFP.

"Although there has been no specific threat in Egypt, it has been decided as a precaution" they added. The schools are due to open again on Sunday, after the Arab weekend on Friday and Saturday.

Charlie Hebdo’s editor, Stephane Charbonnier, defended the cartoons, arguing that they “would shock those who want to be shocked”.

The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued advice to French nationals living abroad, urging them countries to exercise caution.

"We advise them not to take any risks and to avoid large gatherings," it added.

In Tunisa, French schools will remain closed until Monday as a “preventative measure” after the president of the former French colony said Muslims have "the right to protest" as long as they do so peacefully. There are around 30,000 French citizens in Tunisa, which observes the Western weekend, unlike many Arab nations.

French magazine Charlie Hebdo printed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad on Wednesday, less than one year after being firebombed for running similar caricatures.

Riot police stood outside the offices on Wednesday and French embassies in 20 Muslim countries closed amid security fears.

There were reports that all 75,000 of the magazine sold out on Wednesday with many of those copies being ripped up on the streets. More copies will be on sale on Thursday.

The front page of Charlie Hebdo carries the headline “Intouchables 2” with a cartoon underneath showing a rabbi pushing the Prophet in a wheelchair.

The figure being pushed says: "You mustn’t mock."

There are several more cartoons inside, including one showing the Prophet naked.

For Muslims it's not mocking cartoons alone that are deemed highly offensive, but any depictions of the Prophet.

The cartoons were condemned by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who, speaking during a visit to Cairo, told Le Monde that the French Government is "against hostile provocations at this time"

The caricatures follow closely on the heels of widespread violent protests from Muslims against an anti-Islam YouTube film produced in California.

The decision to close schools comes as Paris police banned a demonstration in front of the city's Grand Mosque from taking place on Saturday, AP reported.

France's interior minister decided to ban the protest after a violent demonstration near the U.S. embassy in Paris last weekend.

French political commentator Agnès Poirier told The Huffington Post UK that the French political classes are currently "walking on eggshells".

But she defended the publication of the cartoons.

She said: “I’m in favour of people expressing their opinions.

"The freedom of the press is paramount. It’s not negotiable. Charlie Hebdo has always been quite provocative. It doesn’t pull its punches. The magazine is not anti-Islam. It’s just doing its job of being satirical.

"It also runs anti-Christian cartoons and nobody raises an eyebrow. People who don’t like it shouldn’t buy it."