CAIRO, March 31, 2013 (AFP)
Prosecutors in Egypt were questioning popular satirist Bassem Youssef on Sunday over alleged insults to the president and to religion, reigniting calls for freedom of expression in post-revolt Egypt.
Youssef, whose weekly programme Albernameg (The Show) has pushed the boundaries of local television with its merciless critique of those in power, continued to challenge the authorities even as he arrived at the prosecutor’s office.
He made his way through a throng of cameras and supporters, wearing an enormous version of a hat worn by President Mohamed Morsi earlier this month when he received an honorary doctorate from a university in Pakistan.
Youssef had worn the hat on his show a week earlier.
The heart surgeon turned comedian took to Twitter during his questioning, at one point saying: “The officers and the prosecution lawyers want to have their photo taken with me. Maybe that’s the reason for my summons?”
The public prosecutor on Saturday issued an arrest warrant for Youssef, who has more than 1.2 million Twitter followers, following several legal complaints against him relating to the material used on the show.
He is accused of offending Islam through “making fun of the prayer ritual” and of insulting Morsi by “making fun of his international standing.”
Dubbed the Egyptian answer to American television’s Jon Stewart, Youssef has repeatedly poked fun at those in power and become a household name in the Arab world’s most populous country.
He now joins the ranks of several colleagues in the media who face charges of insulting the president.
The soaring number of legal complaints against journalists has cast doubt on Morsi’s commitment to freedom of expression — a key demand of the popular uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Fans have rallied to Youssef’s defence on social media and opposition figures slammed the arrest as intimidation.
“Pathetic efforts to smother dissent and intimidate media is a sign of a shaky regime and a bunker mentality,” leading dissident and former UN watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei wrote on Twitter.