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Egypt’s ‘Jon Stewart’ Lays Bare Nation’s Deepening Rifts

Photographer: David Degner/Getty Images

Bassem Youssef at his office in Cairo. Close

Bassem Youssef at his office in Cairo.

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Photographer: David Degner/Getty Images

Bassem Youssef at his office in Cairo.

Egypt’s leading political satirist faces a judicial investigation amid allegations he ridiculed the military in a show that highlighted the depth of the country’s divisions.

Bassem Youssef, who had been off-air since favored targets President Mohamed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood were pushed from power by the army in July, returned last week with his Al Bernameg program, poking fun at the pro-military mood that’s gripped the country in his absence.

Youssef will be investigated for broadcasting false information that undermines public security, the Prosecutor General’s office said in a faxed statement. Complaints filed with the prosecution office also accused him of mocking Egypt’s people, army and national symbols.

Army chief Abdelfatah al-Seesi, who removed Mursi from office, has achieved iconic status in Egypt, making irreverence toward him a risk. Politicians and a group identifying itself as the “Al-Seesi for President” campaign said they filed complaints against Youssef with the prosecutor-general’s office.

The legal adviser of the Ahrar Party, Mahmoud Bastaweesy, accused Youssef in a complaint of “adopting the ideologies of the United States and the Muslim Brotherhood and challenging the legitimacy” of the revolt against Mursi, according to an e-mailed statement.

‘National Sentiment’

CBC, the private station that airs the program, said most of the feedback it got from viewers disapproved of portions of the Oct. 25 show. While endorsing media freedom, CBC “is committed to not using phrases, innuendo or scenes that may lead to a mockery of national sentiment or symbols of the Egyptian state,” the station’s board of directors said in a statement read by an anchor at prime time on Oct. 26.

In an editorial before the show, Youssef decried what he called efforts by both pro-military and pro-Brotherhood camps to vilify opponents. The program parodied both groups.

Youssef, a cardiac surgeon turned comedian, lampooned the adulation of al-Seesi fans, while stopping short of criticizing the general himself.

“After the revolution we got a president who thought we were idiots, so the people decided to revolt,” Youssef sang with his team to the tune of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”

The parody, which he characterized as an account of recent events in Egypt tailored for children, ends with one of the performers yelling, “Al-Seesi has battled terrorism and that’s why a coup took place.” That sentence drew an official complaint to the prosecutor-general’s office yesterday from politician Ahmed el-Fadaly, who accused Youssef of defaming the country by using the word ’coup.’

‘Dallying Woman’

Defenders of the military say Mursi’s overthrow was an expression of the people’s will, not a coup. Mursi’s supporters, who deny allegations that Mursi put the Brotherhood’s Islamist agenda before the country’s needs, call his ouster a coup.

El-Fadaly also complained about a sketch in the show in which he accused Youssef of portraying Egypt as a “dallying woman who betrays her husband with military men.”

Youssef, who was sued in March by Mursi supporters over allegations he insulted him and Islam, ended his show saying: “I am not with those who attacked us and called us heretics. But we are afraid that fascism in the name of religion gets replaced with fascism in the name of nationalism and national security.”

Hundreds of Brotherhood supporters have been killed by security forces, and others have been detained since Mursi was removed.

To contact the reporter on this story: Salma El Wardany in Cairo at selwardany@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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