Egyptian Minister of Justice Ahmed al-Zend has been asked by the country's prime minister to step down after his remarks about jailing Muhammad sparked huge outrage. Al-Zend is a vociferous critic of Islamists.
Al-Zend (pictured above, left) said in a TV interview on Friday he would even jail Islam's prophet, Muhammad, if he broke the law.
When asked if he would allow the jailing of journalists slandering him, al-Zend said he would do so "even if they were a prophet." However, he immediately said, "I seek God's forgiveness."
In another interview on Saturday, al-Zend, who is a Muslim, apologized for his remarks, saying they were a mere "slip of the tongue."
"I ask forgiveness from the Almighty and repent to Him. I condemn what I said," al-Zend tweeted in Arabic.
But his comments had already sparked a huge outrage on social media, as critics called for al-Zend's sacking and putting him on trial on blasphemy charges. According to the local media, some lawyers have filed blasphemy lawsuits against al-Zend.
The controversy forced Prime Minister Sharif Ismail to remove al-Zend from his post.
"Prime Minister Sharif Ismail decided to dismiss justice minister Ahmed al-Zend from his post," the prime minister's office said in a statement on Sunday without giving the reason for the decision.
Blaming Muslim Brotherhood
Insulting Muhammad and Islam is an extremely sensitive issue in most Islamic countries, including Egypt, which currently has an anti-Islamist government.
In a statement on Sunday, Egypt's prestigious Islamic body, al-Azhar, said that people talking to the media should be "careful not to harm the lofty status of the prophet lest they should insult his name, even if unintentionally."
The former justice minister accused the followers of the banned Muslim Brotherhood organization of stirring public anger against him.
In recent months, an Egyptian TV host and a poet have been jailed for defaming Islam.
Al-Zend was appointed justice minister in May 2015, replacing Mahfouz Saber, who was sacked for "insulting" the judiciary.
Shamil Shams (Reuters, dpa, AFP)