By MAGGIE MICHAEL, Associated Press
CAIRO (AP) — One hardline Muslim cleric on an Egyptian TV station justified sexual assaults on women protesters. Others issued religious edicts saying opposition leaders must be killed. Television screeds by ultraconservative sheiks are raising fears of assassinations here a day after a top anti-Islamist politician was gunned down in Tunisia.
Egyptian security officials on Thursday beefed up security around the homes of Egypt's main opposition politicians, citing the possibility of a Tunisia-type killing after the edicts, or fatwas. The office of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and his prime minister denounced the edicts and the top prosecutor began an investigation into one of the clerics.
Two well-known ultraconservative clerics sparked an uproar with their edicts several days ago saying Shariah, or Islamic law, required the killing of opposition figures. A third fanned the flames by justifying a string of mob sexual assaults on women protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
"They are going there to get raped," cleric Ahmed Mohammed Abdullah said, depicting them as loose women. He spoke of their curly hair, saying "these are devils named women ... They speak with no femininity, no morals, no fear ... Learn from Muslim women, be Muslims."
On his TV show on the private Al-Umma station Wednesday, Abdullah, also known as Abu Islam, derided opposition statements that attacking women was "a red line" that must not be crossed.
"Does that apply to these naked women?" he said. "Nine out of 10 of them are Crusaders (Christians) and the rest are ... widows with no one to rein them in" to ensure they remain modest.
Sexual assaults on women protesters have spiked in Egypt's wave of unrest since late January, with at least 19 reported on Jan. 25 alone. In many cases, mobs stripped women, penetrating them with knives and other objects, according to rights groups.
The TV screeds by the clerics reflect the fury with which some ultraconservatives have reacted to nationwide protests against Morsi, which turned into deadly clashes as police cracked down on the demonstrators.
Aides to Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood officials have depicted the protesters as thugs and criminals and have accused opposition politicians of condoning or even fueling violence in an attempt to undermine Morsi.
The hardline clerics took up that same rhetoric, but went further and declared that protesters and opposition leaders must face punishments under Islamic law for those who cause chaos or try to overthrow the ruler, including death, crucifixion or amputations of limbs.
Their edicts took on a new light after Tunisian opposition leader Chokri Belaid, a sharp secular critic of that country's Islamist-led government, was gunned down outside his home Wednesday.
Belaid's assassination "sounds danger alarms from Tunisia to Cairo, and warns of the cancerous growth of terrorist groups cloaked by religion and carrying out a plot to liquidate the opposition morally and physically," Egypt's main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, said in a statement.
A day earlier, the Front's leader Mohamed ElBaradei denounced what he called the government's silence "as another fatwa gives license to kill opposition in the name of Islam."
On Thursday, Morsi's office said in a statement that it "stresses its full rejection of hate speech cloaked by religion" and called on all national, religious and intellectual leaders "to stand as one line against unacceptable inciteful language."
Prime Minister Hesham Kandil warned that such edicts could lead to "sedition and disturbance" and said they "are not related to Islam."
Interior Ministry spokesman Gen. Hani Abdel Latif said security authorities will increase patrols in residential areas where opposition leaders live in. He told the website of the state Al-Ahram newspaper that security officials have "put into consideration" the assassination of the Tunisia's Belaid.
A security official said ElBaradei's home and several other leaders' homes will be put under observation for their protection. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Egyptians saw a series of assassinations of top statesmen and writers after religious edicts were issued against them back in 1990s during a bloody Islamic extremist insurgency.