By Ali Al-Bassam
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
CAIRO, Egypt — Popular Egyptian satirist Dr. Bassem Youssef was investigated by prosecutors on Tuesday for allegedly insulting President Mohamed Morsi. A judicial source said that prosecutors initiated their investigation when his show, Al-Barnameg, poked fun at the issue of Morsi’s extensive power creation during the months of November and December. The charges in the formal complaint brought against Youssef state that he made the jokes with the purpose of “undermining the standing” of Morsi.
The case is likely to come under public scrutiny, as Egypt has been heavily criticized because of its lack of press freedoms. The case was transferred to a Cairo prosecutor after Ramadan Abdel Hamid al-Aqsari, a lawyer, filed the initial complaint. This is not the first time he raised a complaint against an entertainer. In the past, Aqsari tried to sue a range of media personalities and politicians.
Aqsari brought forth his complaint because of separate sketches in which Youssef portrayed Morsi as a pharaoh, nicknamed him “Super Morsi” for retaining both executive and legislative powers, and, for putting the president’s image on a pillow that was used to parody his speeches.
Youssef, a doctor, rose to fame after creating a satirical online program following the Egyptian uprising that resulted in the overthrow of ex-President Hosni Mubarak. Youssef’s program has been compared to the Daily Show in the U.S.
Youssef has been the subject of a number of complaints in the past, none of which resulted in his prosecution. It is possible that the most recent complaint will follow the trend.
In an interview with Al Arabiya, Youssef said that his show is merely satirical, and that it is not his aim to criticize anyone. “I don’t criticize, I satirize. I make fun, which is even more shocking. Whoever is in authority will have to deal with our program,” said Youssef.
He acknowledges the criticism that he receives from the Muslim Brotherhood, whom he considers to be Egypt’s right wing. “Our right wing here in Egypt is different from the U.S. because people here are more emotional about religion, they can’t differntiate between politics and religion. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis are the right wing, I don’t deal with them as religious groups but as political groups,” he said.
Human rights activists believe that the State’s complaint against Youssef is only “the latest in a series of criminal defamation cases that bode ill for free speech as Egypt reshapes its institutions after Mubarak was toppled.” Heba Morayef, the Egypt director of Human Rights Watch, believes that there will be an increase in the number of cases similar to the one against Youssef. “The problem is now we are more likely to see an increase in this because criminal defamation is now embedded in the constitution,” she said.
For further information, please see:
Al Arabiya — Egyptian Comedy Show Host Investigated Over Mursi Insult — 2 January 2013
Al Bawaba — Egyptian Political Satirist Under Scanner for ‘Mocking’ Morsi — 2 January 2013
Al Jazeera — Egypt Cracks Down on Satirists and Media — 2 January 2013
BBC News — Popular Egypt Satirist Accused of Mocking President — 2 January 2013