In a test of the Egyptian government’s tolerance for satire, TV host Bassem Youssef is out on $2,000 bail but faces four counts that in freer countries would be themselves considered targets of ridicule.
Youssef was seen leaving the Public Prosecution office in Cairo Sunday amid crowds of supporters who had gathered in solidarity of the host of the popular “Al-Bernameg” (“The Show”) program, which has been compared to “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” for its humorous – and often biting – take and swipes at Egypt’s newsmakers.
Here's an excerpt from "Al-Bernameg" with English subtitles:
While the charges can be serious – ridiculing Islam or leaders of Muslim countries, or even allegations of such actions, can lead to stiff penalties in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab-Muslim world – Youssef may be shielded by his popularity and public status in ways commoners would not be.
The country’s new constitution, drafted in 2011 by the ruling Muslim Brotherhood party, issues up to three years in prison for insulting the president, and it adopted anti-blasphemy laws similar to ones in Pakistan. The wording is so vague, critics say, that they can be easily abused, according to Middle East Online. On Saturday, criminal charges were filed against Youssef based on these new laws.
But Youssef took the opportunity to advance one of his causes, that the Morsi administration has been prosecuting people for insulting the president at an alarming rate, far higher even under the three-decade dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. Youssef went as far as to post tweets during the course of his interrogation after he turned himself in wearing an outrageously large graduation hat similar to the one Morsi wore a few weeks ago while accepting a honorary doctorate degree in Pakistan.
Mocking their technological incompetence, Youssef tweeted that prosecutors were “looking for a laptop with Codex program to play the episodes [of the show where he allegedly committed his speech crimes]. And they couldn’t find one,” according to the Cario-based news outlet Al-Masry Al-Youm
A judge ordered that all Twitter posts regarding the investigation be removed.
Youssef’s defense lawyer Montasser al-Zayyat maintains that Youssef made no disparaging remarks about the president or Islam. Besides the three charges – insulting the president, ridiculing Islam, reporting false news – a fourth unannounced charge has reportedly been leveled against the TV host.