Egypt's justice minister faced outrage on social media Sunday after a television interview in which he said he would arrest even "a prophet," although he later admitted it was a "slip of tongue".
When asked in an interview on private satellite channel Sada Al-Balad on Friday about a case involving journalists accused of defaming him and whether he would jail them, Ahmed al-Zind said he would imprison anyone.
“Even if it’s a prophet, God’s peace and blessings be upon him,” Zind said, using the Islamic saying of reverence spoken by Muslims only when referring to the Prophet Mohammed.
Upon realising what he had said, Zind immediately stopped and said: “I ask for forgiveness from God.”
He further said any “wrongdoer, whatever his identity — even judges” would be jailed if found guilty.
Zind’s remarks triggered outrage on social media networks immediately after the interview, with angry tweets continuing to pour in on Sunday.
Cairo-based Al-Azhar, a prestigious learning centre of Sunni Islam, even issued a warning.
Angry Egyptians launched the Twitter hashtag “trial for Zind” as they lashed out at the minister, who only in January had angered human rights groups after he called for the “mass killing” of outlawed Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
“At least he should be sacked and then put on trial. This issue is not a joke,” said one tweet on Sunday.
“God will take revenge,” said another.
Zind clarified in a separate telephone interview with private network CBC television on Saturday that his remark was a mere “slip of tongue”.
They were “meant in a hypothetical sense… but the Muslim Brotherhood supporters seized on them”.
Al-Azhar warned against insulting the Prophet Mohammed.
“All those involved in public discourse and in the media must respect the name of the Prophet,” it said in a statement without naming Zind.
“He should not be subjected to any insult even if it’s unintentional.”
In January, Zind said in an interview with the same Sada al-Balad channel that he “would not be satisfied until 10,000 Brotherhood members were killed for every martyr” from the armed forces and the police.
Human Rights Watch said his remarks encouraged the “slaughter” of political opponents.
Egyptian authorities have cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood movement after the army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
Hundreds of Brotherhood supporters have been killed and thousands more jailed in the crackdown, while several of its leaders including Morsi have been sentenced to death or lengthy jail terms.