Egypt issues arrest warrant for political satirist who allegedly insulted President Mohamed Morsy
CAIRO — Egypt's top prosecutor has issued an arrest warrant for the country's leading comedian and most popular television personality.
Political satirist Bassem Youssef is accused of insulting President Mohamed Morsy, denigrating Islam and spreading false news to disrupt public order, Egypt's official news agency reported.
The warrant is the latest in a series of legal actions against Youssef, widely known as Egypt's version of “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart.
Political activists have been accusing Morsy and the ruling Muslim Brotherhood of a widening crackdown on opponents and independent media.
“We are seeing a very furious and dangerous attack on freedom of the press and freedom of expression in general by the Muslim Brotherhood and even the president himself,” said Khaled Daoud, spokesman for the National Salvation Front, the largest opposition bloc.
Ghaly Shafik, 33, who writes a political blog under the pen name “Big Pharaoh,” predicted that Youssef's arrest “is just one more circle in a long chain of what will happen in the future — more arrests, more oppression and increased pressure on the media.”
Egypt is the most populous and influential Arab nation and, until the Islamic-based Brotherhood took power in 2012, a reliable U.S. ally. The Obama administration generally has expressed confidence in the Brotherhood.
Youssef, a U.S.-trained heart surgeon, has delighted Egyptian audiences with his relentless satire and parodies aimed at Morsy, the political opposition and some Islamist clerics.
The popularity of his TV show, “Program Program,” has made him a beloved personality in Egypt.
He used Twitter to tell more than 1 million followers of the arrest warrant. He offered to surrender on Monday to the prosecutor — “Or if you prefer, send a police car today and save us the expense.”
At least 17 Brotherhood opponents were arrested this past week. Activists say 169 people are slated for arrest in the coming weeks.
Mohamed Soliman, 21, a student activist in Dastour, the party of Nobel Prize laureate and former United Nations nuclear chief Mohamed El Baradie, said he heard he is on that list.
Soliman, who oversees Dastour's campaigns during university elections, said all of the listed individuals are Brotherhood opponents.
“In the past three months, 72 people have been arrested,” he told the Tribune-Review. “Three are under (age) 20 and are going to be tried for insulting Morsy for making ‘the Harlem Shake,'” a satirical dance performed twice outside the Brotherhood's headquarters.
“We are under full attack,” he said.
Critics accuse Morsy of acting as the Brotherhood's president, not as Egypt's leader.
Mahmoud Salem, a former parliamentary candidate and political blogger known as “Sandmonkey,” said the Brotherhood is appeasing “its base by going hard after their opponents.”
Morsy's foes point out that no Brotherhood members were arrested for beating and detaining activists and journalists during a December protest at the presidential palace or a recent protest at Brotherhood headquarters.
Some activists said Brotherhood followers tortured them in a mosque after a demonstration last week. The mosque's imam has issued an apology, accusing “members of the Islamist current” of seizing control of the mosque and demanding an investigation of the torture allegation.
According to critics, Morsy and the Brotherhood are trying to deflect public attention from their failure to run the country and avoid financial ruin.
Tourism, a financial mainstay, has collapsed. Egypt's currency, the pound, has devalued by 10 percent, and hyperinflation has food prices skyrocketing. Fuel shortages are causing long gas station lines; many people fear severe power outages this summer.
“We are seeing a rise in petty and organized crime; there is no security now,” Salem said. “This is augmented by austerity measures and economic stagnation due to the Muslim Brotherhood's ‘pragmatic businessmen.'”
“This shows again that the Muslim Brotherhood is focusing on consolidating power instead of trying to build consensus,” Shafik said. “They are cloning Mubarak's regime,” referring to Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted by Egypt's 2011 Arab Spring revolution.
Daoud described dissident arrests as a “scare tactic.”
“This regime is pushing towards more confrontation, and then they blame the opposition for their failures and instability,” he said.
Soliman said he does not know if the Brotherhood-controlled government is cracking down out of panic over losing control or “maybe it's planned — they have a timeline for this.”
He said he would remain politically active and wait to see if an arrest warrant is issued.
“I can't allow fear into my heart after the revolution,” the civil engineering student said.
Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Email her at email@example.com.