updated 11/2/2008 5:27:21 PM ET 2008-11-02T22:27:21

The Moroccan government has banned the most recent issue of the French magazine L'Express International for insulting Islam.

Information Minister Khalid Naciri said Sunday that he had no choice but to ban the issue because of the offensive nature of the articles it contained. The minister said that Article 29 of the kingdom's press code allows the government to shut down or ban any publication deemed to offend Islam or the king.

The cover story of this week's L'Express is titled "The Jesus-Muhammad Shock" and discussed the relationship between Christians and Muslims.

"Our country should not be used by anyone to spread articles that could be prejudicial to our religion or undermine public order," Naciri told The Associated Press after issuing the ban late last week. He did not specify exactly what was considered offensive in the sizable cover story.

Doesn't understand reaction
The weekly's Internet site said it did not understand Morocco's reaction. It said the magazine was published ahead of a meeting this week in Rome between Christian and Muslim scholars to "help the dialogue between Islam and Christianity."

The magazine said six articles discussed various religious topics. One of the magazine's chief editors recently published a book on the same theme, also called "The Jesus-Muhammad Shock."

L'Express said it had been careful not to offend Muslims, notably by changing the cover for the international edition that appears in Morocco. Both versions feature side-by-side portraits of Jesus and Muhammad, but the one for export to North Africa pictures Islam's prophet with his face covered, in accordance with Islamic law which forbids any representation of Muhammad.

Christian Makarian, the editor, stressed that L'Express is the only French magazine to issue a monthly supplement centered on Morocco, a former French colony.

"We were banned despite this particular attention that shows our respect for the Moroccan public and the Muslim faith," Makarian said on the L'Express site. "I don't understand."

Close cultural ties to France
The Information Ministry for Algeria, Morocco's neighbor, said it was not aware of the issue, while Tunisian officials did not return calls Sunday for comment.

Many liberal elites in North Africa follow the French media because they have retained close cultural ties to France, which colonized the entire region.

Morocco, a tourism haven, is a strong European and U.S. ally. The country has also seen a rising tide of political Islam. In 2006, Islamist parties and associations staged huge protests throughout Morocco after a Danish newspaper published a series of cartoons deemed offensive to the Prophet Muhammad.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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