An Egyptian political satirist turned himself in for questioning after an arrest order was issued for him over allegations he insulted Islam and the president.
The prosecutor’s office said it issued a warrant yesterday for Bassem Youssef, dubbed “Egypt’s Jon Stewart,” after complaints that he ridiculed and insulted President Mohamed Mursi and Islam in his “Al Bernameg” television program.
“We are not the ones who insult religion,” Youssef said in a phone interview with TV anchor Lamees El-Hadidy last night on the CBC channel. “If there is anyone who has insulted religion, it is those who use Islam as a weapon for political reasons.”
The case is magnifying accusations by Mursi’s critics that his regime is seeking to limit freedoms, including of expression, and crack down on detractors. It will also provide ammunition for activists accusing the public prosecutor appointed by Mursi of double standards in dealing with complaints targeting the president’s opponents versus those against his supporters.
“The lack of independence of the Egyptian judiciary, as is generally the case elsewhere in the Arab world, makes it a tool in the hands of those in power to pursue and punish their opponents,” human rights lawyer Gamal Eid said by phone today.
“Bassem’s case is in big part a test balloon,” he said. “If it goes through without a popular backlash despite his wide popularity, it will be easy to go after a long list of opponents.”
Hassan Yassin, a spokesman for the prosecutor general, didn’t answer calls seeking comment. Mursi has repeatedly said he respects the independence of the judiciary and is committed to freedoms, including of the press.
On his way to the building housing the prosecution office, Youssef was forced to squeeze through supporters chanting “Bassem, Bassem,” as they gathered in solidarity.
A medical doctor, Youssef shot to fame after the 2011 uprising that pushed Hosni Mubarak from power. Best known for mocking Islamists, Youssef’s program is similar in style to U.S. comedian Stewart’s “The Daily Show,” on which he has appeared. The format of Al Bernameg combines political commentary and spoof interviews with digs at politicians, media and other public personalities, at times juxtaposing their current positions with statements they made in the past. Videos of Mursi have featured prominently in Youssef’s show.
“Pathetic efforts to smother dissent and intimidate media” are “a sign of a shaky regime and a bunker mentality,” Egyptian opposition leader and Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei wrote on Twitter.
Talaat Ibrahim, the public prosecutor, will appeal a court ruling annulling his appointment by Mursi, the state-run news agency said yesterday. The legal battle over his appointment has emerged as the latest in a series of run-ins between Mursi and courts that Islamists have claimed are biased against them.
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