Sheikh Hashem Islam, a member of the Fatwas (religious edicts) Committee of Egypt's highest Islamic authority, Al-Azhar, has preached that confronting those who plan to hit the streets 24 August to protest against the Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohamed Morsi may not be punishable.
"This is a revolution that starkly goes against democracy and freedom," he said during a forum held at the Egyptian Diplomatic Club late Tuesday.
"Who wants to join the 24 August uprising will be against the 25 January Revolution … These people would be committing high treason against their nation, God, his prophet and Muslims."
"So, I say stand up against them. If they fight you, fight them back … if they kill some of you, the victims will go to heaven, and if you kill them, that would be righteous."
Some of the attendees allegedly voiced disgruntlement with his statements, which they deemed inflammatory.
Former liberal MP Mohamed Abu-Hamed, along with other anti-Brotherhood supporters of TV presenter Tawfiq Okasha, who is wanted on charges of incitement to murder the president on air, primarily called for this month's protests, to protest against president Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Azhar cleric comments draw fire
Mohamed El-Baradei, reform activist and co-founder of Egypt's Constitution Party, for his part, voiced fury over the comments.
"If these religious clerics aren't put on trial, we will fall into the trap of fascist rule cloaked in religion," El-Baradei said via Twitter.
Also demanding that the cleric be put on trial was MP Abu-Hamed, who supported Mubarak-era Ahmed Shafiq against Morsi in the presidential race last June and is well known for his strong anti-Islamist stance.
"This is what we told Egyptians would happen if religion was mixed with politics," said Abu-Hamed, stressing that, if the cleric was not punished for his statements, then this would constitute proof of "Al-Azhar's failure to discipline its officials."
"These clerics are known for hypocritically flattering the country's rulers; he's probably one of those who accused protesters of committing a sin by participating in last year's January 25 uprising," Abu-Hamed added.
In the early days of the Tahrir Square uprising, several religious clerics condemned the mushrooming anti-regime protests, claiming it was a sin to "disobey the ruler."
Said Kamal, head of Egypt's Democratic Front Party, stated that his party would consider joining the called-for protests to defend the public's right to stage peaceful demonstrations.
The cleric's statements, he said, "threaten the January 25 Revolution and its main accomplishments, one of which is the right to peaceful protest," said Kamal, asserting that the comments foreshadowed a return to "the repressive times of the former regime."
Kamal further stated that, "If it wasn't for the peaceful protests of January 25, the Muslim Brotherhood would not have gained the political positions it currently holds." He went on to demand that President Mohamed Morsi issue a statement clarifying his stance vis-à-vis threats against those planning to take part in the planned protests.
Muslim Brotherhood Secretary-General Mahmoud Hussein, for his part, said that the Brotherhood opposed calls to kill or criminalise anyone, stressing that every citizen enjoyed the right to stage demonstrations as long as they remained within the confines of the law and did not damage public property.
"However," he added, "calls to stage protests... and damage public property on 24 August are illegal."
Rumours have recently circulated that the 24 August protests would target the Brotherhood's Cairo headquarters. Protest organisers, however, have stressed that the planned demonstrations were to be of a peaceful nature.
"Unfortunately, many have taken the president's leniency as an excuse to engage in undemocratic activity," said the Brotherhood's Hussein, adding that the law would have the final word in judging offenders "regardless of their ages or political positions."