Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1287, (17 - 23 March 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1287, (17 - 23 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

A costly slip of the tongue

The justice minister has been dismissed after making a comment considered by many to have been blasphemous, reports Ahmed Hamdi

Al-Ahram Weekly

Ahmed Al-Zend, now the former justice minister, has been sacked by Prime Minister Sherif Ismail following his appearance on a TV programme, during which he said he would “imprison the Prophet himself if he were at fault”.

Minister of Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Magdi Al-Agati has been named caretaker until a new justice minister is appointed.

Ismail thanked Al-Zend for his efforts, saying that he had done his job “very well” during the time he served as justice minister.

A brief clip from the TV show “Nazra”, on the private channel Sada Al-Balad, went viral on social media when Al-Zend was asked by the host about the imprisonment of journalists. “Even if it was the Prophet [Mohamed], peace be upon him,” said Al-Zend, adding, “Anyone who is at fault will be imprisoned, regardless of their stature.”

The two-minute clip aired on Friday’s episode but did not receive much media coverage until Saturday night. Only a handful of websites published the video, highlighting the remark. However, as soon as websites started sharing the video, the comment took the Internet by storm. On Twitter, users launched a hashtag demanding Al-Zend’s removal.

As the situation around Al-Zend heated up, he apologised, describing the remark as “a slip of the tongue”, and saying that he had quickly repented and had not meant what he said. The apology was not well received by social media users, however, who continued to call for his dismissal.

Social media users backed their demand by pointing out that Al-Zend’s predecessor, Mahfouz Saber, was dismissed last year after saying on a TV talk show that the sons of garbage collectors could not become judges.

They also asked Al-Azhar to step into the storm, which it did on Sunday in the form of a statement. It warned those who speak to the media to not make blasphemous comments regarding the Prophet.

Later on Sunday night, rumours flew. News websites published reports attributed to unnamed sources that Al-Zend had been asked to hand in his resignation by the prime minister. Later in the evening it was reported that Al-Zend had agreed to resign. However, some news reports claimed that the minister refused.

“Ismail Dismisses Al-Zend” was one headline that topped news websites. News portals highlighted that it was the first time in Egypt that a minister had to be fired after refusing to resign.

Amr Adib, host of the TV talk “Al-Qahera Al-Youm”, said that despite his respect for Al-Zend and his history, his dismissal was a must. But Ahmed Moussa, host of the TV programme “Ala Masoliati”, also aired on Sada Al-Balad, showed more lenience.

Islamic preacher Khaled Al-Gindi asked the public to forgive Al-Zend for his mistake. Al-Gindi staunchly defended Al-Zend, describing him as “a real man” for apologising for his mistake, a move that he saw as courageous.

Speaking to the TV show “Yahdos Fi Masr” on MBC, another Islamic preacher, Mabrouk Attia, said that Al-Zend’s comment was not an insult to the Prophet, but added that prophets should not be used to give examples.

Egypt’s judges issued a statement opposing the dismissal. Abdullah Fathi, head of the Judges Club, told Reuters: “Egypt’s judges are sorry that someone who defended Egypt and its people, judiciary and nation in the face of the terrorist organisation that wanted to bring it down should be punished in this way.” Fathi was referring to the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Zend has been a sworn enemy of the terrorist group.

Some judges threatened to “abandon” the ministry. Fathi, however, told the press on Monday that judges will not interfere in the work of the executive branch.

On Monday, Al-Zend’s dismissal was published as a government decree in the official gazette.

Al-Zend’s comment on the Prophet was not the first remark he has made that has caused controversy. He supported the appointment of the children of judges in judicial positions, saying no one can stop “the sacred crawl” [[QUERY]].

He also called demonstrators who took part in the 2011 Revolution “mobs” before later apologizing. On the TV channel Ten, he once said that Egyptians could get by on LE2 or LE3 a day.

One of his most controversial statements came after members of the Brotherhood burned photos of judges. “We will not stay silent against any insult on this land. We [judges] are the masters and the rest are slaves,” he said.

That comment was made during a phone call to the Faraeen TV channel, to a programme hosted by Tawfik Okasha, who was recently voted out of parliament after he met with the Israeli ambassador to Egypt. A majority 465 MPs deemed the meeting as a threat to national security.

Neither Al-Zend, who is a former head of the Judges Club, nor TV personality Okasha has previously been involved in politics. Al-Zend at least spent more time as justice minister than Okasha did as an MP. Al-Zend was appointed justice minister in May 2015 while Okasha was an MP for less than two months.

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