Calls made by a radical Egyptian Muslim leader to destroy the "idolatrous" sphinx and pyramids are being taken seriously by Egyptian security authorities, Egyptian press has reported.
Murgan Salem al-Gohary is a Salafi Muslim who has associated himself with the Taliban and has twice been imprisoned for inciting violence during former president Hosni Mubarack's reign.
He made the comments in a interview on a private Egyptian channel Dream TV saying: “We destroyed the Buddha statues in Afghanistan and will destroy the Sphinx and the Pyramids because they are idols."
“The Muslims are obliged to apply the Sharia (Islamic law), including the removal of the idols,” the Egyptian Independent quoted him as saying.
Two ancient giant sandstone statues of Buddha carved into a cliff in the Bamiyan Valley were blown up by the Taliban in 2001, after then-Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar issued an edict against un-Islamic graven images.
The Buddha statues were blown up in 2001
According to Egyptian newspaper al-Masry al-Youm officials are taking threats to their ancient heritage sites seriously, fearing the tourist industry will be harmed.
An anonymous security official told the Egyptian daily the police and security authorities in Giza had “taken the necessary precautions to deal with any aggression."
He described the sites as “a source of national income" and added "they bring tourists to Egypt."
The Egyptian revolution has already taken its toll on tourism
His comments were made at a particularly sensitive time as a week ago thousands of conservative Egyptian Muslims staged a rally in Tahrir Square in Cairo, demanding the government introduce a constitution based on Sharia law. There are plans to protest again on Friday, reported Gulf news.
Mohammed Morsi's government has not made a statement but the vice president of Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda party, Sheikh Abdel Fattah Moro, called the live programme, according to Al Arabiya.
He pointed to the example of Amr ibn al-As, an Arab military commander who led the Muslim conquest of Egypt in 640 who built the first mosque in Africa. He did not destroy the sites when he conquered Egypt.
“So who are you to do it?” he asked. “The Prophet destroyed the idols because people worshiped them, but the Sphinx and the Pyramids are not worshipped.”