Egypt’s justice minister Ahmed El-Zend (Al-Ahram)
Egypt’s Justice Minister Ahmed El-Zend was fired on Sunday little less than a year in office in the wake of widespread criticism of comments he made regarding the Muslim Prophet Muhammed that were considered to be blasphemous.
The decision was taken by Egypt's Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, state-run news agency MENA said. However, Ismail's cabinet is yet to reveal the reasons for sacking El-Zend.
Last week, in response to a TV host's question on whether he would jail journalists, El-Zend said, "Even if he was a prophet, peace and blessings be upon him."
The 70-year-old then briefly uttered Islamic words of repentance before adding that "the culprit, whatever his description is... I am not talking about jailing a journalist or jailing a teacher, I am saying jailing a defendant."
El-Zend, who is infamous for making controversial media statements, has been facing a wave of criticism on social media after his comments went viral and were largely interpreted as an insult to the Prophet Muhammad, the most sacred figure among Muslims and whose sayings comprise a prime source of Islamic jurisprudence.
'Slip of the tongue'
"The thing that a Muslim or a non-Muslim is held culpable for is what is done willfully," El-Zend said when he called in to a TV show on Saturday, stressing that it was a slip of the tongue.
"I ask God Almighty for forgiveness over and over and over again... I know my apology will be accepted [by Prophet Muhammad]."
Al-Azhar, the highest seat of Sunni Islamic learning, issued a statement on Sunday warning against blasphemous comments regarding the Prophet, even those made unintentionally.
An Arabic Twitter hashtag calling for his trial went viral in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, with numerous Muslim users expressing anger over his comment and heaping scorn on him even after his apology.
Prior to becoming justice minister, El-Zend was the head of the powerful Judges Club, of which the majority of Egyptian judges are members.
Before El-Zend’s sacking was announced, the Judges Club issued a statement saying that they stand by the justice minister in the face of the "systematic smear campaign against him."
Last May, El-Zend's predecessor Mahfouz Saber resigned as justice minister after saying that sons of garbage collectors should not be judges, which was widely seen as a classist statement and earned him heavy criticism in the days leading up to his resignation.