x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef is given bail, still poking fun at Morsi

Yousseff, who has been questioned on charges he insulted Islam and President Mohammed Morsi, poked fun at the president by wearing an oversized graduation cap to the public prosecution office. Bradley Hope reports from Cairo

Egyptian television satirist Bassem Youssef, who has come to be known as Egypt's Jon Stewart, waves to his supporters as he enters Egypt's state prosecutors office to face accusations of insulting Islam and the country's Islamist leader.
Egyptian television satirist Bassem Youssef, who has come to be known as Egypt's Jon Stewart, waves to his supporters as he enters Egypt's state prosecutors office to face accusations of insulting Islam and the country's Islamist leader.

CAIRO // The popular Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef was released on bail yesterday after prosecutors questioned him on charges that he insulted Islam and the president.

Not missing an opportunity to poke fun at Mohammed Morsi, Youssef turned himself in to the public prosecution office wearing an oversized graduation cap.

It was a dig at Mr Morsi's headwear when he was awarded an honorary degree in Pakistan last month. The joke was a rare moment of levity in a legal case that is likely to lend credence to claims by opponents of Mr Morsi that his government is cracking down on freedom of expression in a bid to cement the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

After several hours of questioning in the public prosecution office, Youssef was released on bail of 15,000 Egyptian pounds (Dh8,000).

Youssef tweeted that the bail was for three separate cases. The date for an expected fourth interrogation has not been set, he said.

The human-rights lawyer Gamal Eid said the release on bail means "all options are open".

"The prosecution could continue investigation, put the case aside or send it to trial," Mr Eid said.

Youssef, 39, is a surgeon who took to the screen after the 2011 uprising with a Jon Stewart-inspired television show called El Bernameg (The Show). Prosecutors ordered his arrest on Saturday for insulting the president and disparaging Islam. The prosecution was acting on multiple complaints filed by a dozen Islamist lawyers and citizens, state media said.

It was not clear which episodes of his weekly show initiated the complaints, but Youssef has regularly derided members of the government and those he says misuse religion for political gains.

Egyptian media said one episode in particular - in which Youssef mocked an interview with Mr Morsi - was connected to the complaints.

Mr Youssef says his sarcasm is not directed at Islam. "We are not the ones who insult religion, all we do is expose the channels that have misused religion and harmed it more than anyone else," he said on a television talk show on Saturday night. "If there is anyone who has insulted religion it is those who use Islam as a weapon for political reasons."

When host Lamees El Hadidy asked if he had insulted the president, he replied: "How can anyone insult him? He is the first elected president."

Legal action against celebrities and journalists for insulting the government and religion has been common in Egypt over the past two years.

Adel Imam, a comedian well known throughout the Middle East, narrowly avoided a prison sentence last year for "insulting Islam" through his depictions of characters. A higher court overturned the three-month sentence and 1,000-pound fine last May. In January 2012, the telecoms tycoon Naguib Sawiris was sued for defamation of religion because he posted an image on Twitter of Mickey and Minnie Mouse wearing conservative Islamic clothing.

Liberal activists have pointed to the cases against artists and writers as proof that newly empowered Islamist political groups were trying to shut out criticism.

Egypt's new constitution, ratified by a public vote in December, enshrines free speech but also limits certain types of speech about religion. It forbids insults to "all prophets".

Mr Morsi's decision to rush through the vote on the constitution marked the beginning of widespread protests against his government that have wracked the country for four months.

bhope@thenational.ae

* Additional reporting by the Associated Press

twitter: For breaking news from the Gulf, the Middle East and around the globe follow The National World. Follow us