Bassem Youssef gets arrested by state prosecutors for allegedly insulting Islam and the country’s leader, in a move that government opponents say is aimed at silencing critics of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
Youssef, who has come to be known as Egypt’s Jon Stewart, followed an order earlier this week by the country’s top prosecutor to arrest five prominent pro-democracy activists in what the opposition has characterized as a widening campaign against dissent.
The warrant against Youssef is the latest in a series of legal actions against the comedian, whose widely-watched weekly show, “ElBernameg” or “The Program,” has become a platform for lampooning the government, opposition, media and clerics. He has also used his program to fact-check politicians.
The fast-paced show has attracted a wide viewership, while at the same time earning itself its fair share of detractors. Youssef has been a frequent target of lawsuits, most of them brought by Islamist lawyers who have accused him of “corrupting morals” or violating “religious principles.”
Prosecutor Mohammed el-Sayed Khalifa told Al-Ahram online that he has heard 28 plaintiffs accusing Youssef of insulting Islam, mocking prayers, and “belittling” Morsi in the eyes of the world and his own people.
In one episode of the show, Youssef mocks former militants who are now part of the mainstream political scene in Egypt. At a recent rally, some former radicals who were imprisoned for taking part in the assassination of late President Anwar Sadat in 1981, accused the opposition of using violence at anti-Morsi protests.
In the program, Youssef ridicules an Islamist who said the militants had repented by fasting for three months for mistakenly killing others with Sadat.
“What a message,” Youssef says. “Anyone can form a group in the name of religion, assassinate in the name of religion, and then oops! Repent and fast for three months, and it will too pass in the name of religion.”
The comedian has faced several court cases in the past accusing him of insulting Morsi. One of Youssef’s attorneys, Gamal Eid, said however that this is the first time an arrest warrant has been issued for the comedian.
In a post on his official Twitter account, Youssef said he will hand himself in to the prosecutor’s office Sunday. He then added, with his typical sarcasm: “Unless they kindly send a police van today and save me the transportation hassle.”