Comedian Arrested In Latest Egyptian Crackdown on Free Speech
by John Rossomando • Apr 1, 2013 at 5:51 pm
No single critic of the Muslim Brotherhood has been as effective as Bassem Youssef, the Egyptian funny man known by many as "Egypt's Jon Stewart," but that effectiveness has come with a cost. An arrest warrant for the comedian was issued on Saturday on charges of "insulting Islam" and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.
He was interrogated for five hours Sunday and released on bail.
Youssef's show, "al-Bermaneg," attracts 30 million viewers throughout the Arab world and is known for lampooning Egypt's political and religious elites, including Morsi. The regime's chief prosecutor opened an investigation into Youssef in January after receiving a complaint.
The arrest represents the most serious affront to free speech since the Brotherhood took power last year, Human Rights Watch director Heba Morayef tells The Guardian. "This is the crackdown," she said.
Youssef's warrant came less than a day after nine opposition activists and four lawyers were arrested in Alexandria. It also followed legal proceedings launched by Morsi-appointed Prosecutor General Talaat Abdullah against five prominent activists for allegedly inciting violence against the Muslim Brotherhood.
"Pathetic efforts to smother dissent and intimidate media is a sign of a shaky regime and a bunker mentality," Opposition leader Mohamed Elbaradei wrote in a Twitter post Saturday.
Youssef promises to take his show's satire "through the roof" and not give in to intimidation. Egyptian prosecutors charged Youssef under a 200-year-old law that he finds absurd.
"If we made a whole revolution and we didn't change a law like this, then this is quite ridiculous," Youssef told CBS News. "President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have not made any serious steps to actually improve liberties in the country."
"This kind of program is extremely new to the region ... We are destroying taboos and taking away the holiness of leadership through satire, through humor," Youssef continued. "So I think many people up there are panicking, and they don't know how to deal with it."
Targeting Youssef may backfire against the regime because of the widespread international press attention his situation has received.
In the clearest condemnation of the Morsi government to date, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland condemned Youssef 's arrest on Monday, along with the other recent efforts to stifle free speech in Egypt.
"We are concerned that the public prosecutor appears to have questioned and then released on bail Bassem Youssef on charges of insulting Islam and President Morsi," Nuland said in Monday's State Department press briefing. "This coupled with recent arrest warrants issued for political activists is evidence of a disturbing trend of growing restrictions on freedom of expression."
Nuland also condemned the Morsi regime for being slow to investigate allegations of police brutality and suppression of press freedom during the December 2012 demonstrations connected with the constitutional referendum.
"So there does not seem to be an evenhanded application of justice here," she said.
Reader comments on this item
Crackdown on a Muslim comedian
Apr 2, 2013 20:23
Give us a break. Those of us that read this blog and others know exactly what Morsi and the Brotherhood represents. The State dept. is treating this like its news. After bringing the Brotherhood into our government and sending them millions of dollars, fighter jets, tanks and weapons, they are now opening their eyes? Please spare us. Even the language is ridiculous. Treating them like human beings is giving them more respect than they deserve. Don't pretend to be surprised, give the rest of us some credit for God's sake.