At the height of international world cup fervour, an ultra-conservative Egyptian cleric has said that watching soccer matches was unacceptable in Islam because it is a distraction and “destroys nations.”

Yasser Borhami, a founding member of the main Salafi movement in Egypt, the Salafi Call, said spending time watching the games was “a disaster that makes me very irate.”

Stopping short of forbidding it entirely, Mr Borhami said that there are conditions that would make it “haram,” or unacceptable in Islam- if it distracts you from your religious duties, reveals body parts that some Muslims believe should be covered, or causes Muslims to love and support unbelievers. And, he said, soccer matches usually meet all of those conditions.

Asked by a presenter who is an ardent soccer fan on the private Egyptian channel CBC about his edict, Mr Borhami back pedalled, but only slightly. “I just said don’t waste your time.” He said that his words had been taken out of context by those eager to attack him for political reasons.

Mr Borhami, whose group was once a supporter of fellow Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood that rose to power in Egypt after the 2011 uprising, grew critical of it later, accusing it of dominating political power. Mr Borhami and his group later supported the popular protests against the Brotherhood and the military overthrow of Islamist President Mohamed Morsy.

That support has cost the group much of its support among its base, particularly the younger conservative Islamists. Incidentally, his latest edict is unlikely to win back any youth support in a country where soccer is the favourite national sport.