U.S. criticism of an arrest warrant issued for Egypt’s top television satirist is a “blatant interference” in the country’s internal affairs, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm said.
Prosecutors ordered Bassem Youssef, known as Egypt’s Jon Stewart, to be detained after complaints that he insulted Islam and Islamist President Mohamed Mursi. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland joined Mursi’s secular opponents in criticizing the decision, saying yesterday that it raised concerns about the government’s commitment to basic freedoms.
Nuland’s comments implied that the allegations focused on slights to the president, the Freedom and Justice Party, previously led by Mursi, said in an e-mailed statement. In fact, they mostly addressed charges of expressing contempt for the Islamic faith, which if substantiated would be a “grave transgression of the law” and of “social and cultural principles in the Egyptian society,” it said.
The action against Youssef adds to tension in a country struggling to revive an economy growing at the slowest pace in nearly two decades and end the polarization and protests that have recurred since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in 2011.
The U.S. has raised concerns over potential threats to civil liberties since Mursi’s election in June. That echoes the views of secularists and rights groups in Egypt, a key U.S. ally for three decades under Mubarak and the recipient of billions of dollars in American aid, mostly military.
The Islamist president has said he respects the freedom of the press and the right to free expression, while stressing there must be accountability, particularly at a time when state institutions are being targeted during the daily protests. Islamists have also criticized independent media and satellite channels for fomenting unrest.
Egypt’s investment authority has received many complaints about Youssef’s show, including “mockery” of “state symbols and prominent personalities” and “sexually suggestive” language, state-run Ahram Gate reported today, citing the authority’s deputy head, Abdel Moneim El-Alfy. The channel broadcasting the show, CBC, has been warned that this violates licensing conditions the program must abide by, he said, according to Ahram Gate.
Youssef, who hosts “Al-Bernameg,” or the Program, on a satellite channel, was released on bail on March 30 hours after he turned himself in to prosecutors for questioning.
“We are not the ones who insult religion,” the satirist said in a phone interview on CBC television. “If there is anyone who has insulted religion, it is those who use Islam as a weapon for political reasons.”
His arrest is “evidence of a disturbing trend of growing restrictions on freedom of expression” in Egypt, Nuland said yesterday in Washington.
The FJP said the case is still in the investigative stage and that it will be handled through “legitimate” legal channels.
Mursi, who has said he will be a president for all Egyptians, has said he will not allow anyone to interfere in Egypt’s affairs.