The U.S. State Department on Monday blasted Egypt for issuing an arrest warrant against the country’s most popular satirist. The warrant comes at a time when the political legitimacy of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Egyptian government is in a downward spiral, and the State Department emphasized that the new move seems very much to be part of a trend:
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the detention and release of television satirist Bassem Youssef was evidence of a “disturbing trend” of mounting restrictions on freedom of expression… “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. “This, coupled with recent arrest warrants issued for other political activists, is evidence of a disturbing trend of growing restrictions on the freedom of expression.”
Youssef stands accused of offending Islam by “making fun of the prayer ritual” and of insulting Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhod-linked president Mohamed Morsi by “making fun of his international standing.”
Youssef was released on bail Sunday after a nearly five-hour interrogation. “They asked me the color of my eyes. Really,” the 39-year-old wrote on his Twitter feed following his release. A heart surgeon by training, Youssef is a secular Muslim who lives in Cairo with his wife and daughter. His program “El Bernameg” (“The Program” in Egyptian dialect) has been widely compared to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
On Monday, Stewart himself devoted an extended segment to the hypocrisy of Morsi’s crackdown on free speech in the name of protecting religion.
“The rules on freedom of expression are a little different over in Egypt. Obviously, over there, you cannot sow hatred or insult religion,” Stewart said.
“I’m curious – what would sowing hatred or insulting religion sound like?” Stewart asked, before cutting to two 2010 clips of Morsi exhorting Egyptians to “nurse our children and grandchildren on hatred of those Zionists and Jews” whom he referred to as “bloodsuckers” and “descendants of apes and pigs.”