Egypt satirist faces probe for insulting president

CAIRO Tue Jan 1, 2013 1:43pm EST

Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi speaks during his first televised address to the nation at the Egyptian Television headquarters in Cairo June 24, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer

Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi speaks during his first televised address to the nation at the Egyptian Television headquarters in Cairo June 24, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian satirist who made fun of President Mohamed Mursi on television will be investigated by prosecutors following an accusation that he undermined the leader's standing, a judicial source said on Tuesday.

Bassem Youssef's case will increase worries about freedom of speech in the post-Hosni Mubarak era, especially when the country's new constitution includes provisions criticized by rights activists for, among other things, forbidding insults.

In a separate case that fuels concern about press freedom, one of Egypt's leading independent newspapers said it was being investigated by the prosecutor following a complaint from the presidency, which accused it of publishing false news.

Youssef rose to fame following the uprising that swept Mubarak from power in February 2011 with a satirical online programme that was compared with Jon Stewart's Daily Show.

He has since had his own show on Egyptian television and mocked Mursi's repeated use of the word "love" in his speeches by starting one of his programmes with a love song, holding a red pillow with the president's face printed on it.

The prosecutor general ordered an investigation into a formal complaint against Youssef by an Islamist lawyer. The complaint accuses him of "insulting" Mursi, an Islamist backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, and "undermining his standing".

Human rights activists say it is the latest in a series of criminal defamation cases that bode ill for free speech as Egypt reshapes its institutions after Mubarak was toppled.

"The greatest threat to freedom of expression over the last four months has been this rise in criminal defamation cases, whether it is on charges of defaming the president or the judiciary," said Heba Morayef, Egypt director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

"The problem is now is we are likely to see an increase in this because criminal defamation is now embedded in the constitution."

Rivals accuse Mursi, who won Egypt's first freely contested leadership election in June, of polarizing society by foisting a divisive, Islamist-leaning constitution on the country.

In the case against the independent daily al-Masry al-Youm, the presidency accused the paper of "spreading false news representing a danger to civil peace, public security and affecting the presidency", the paper said.

The article in question was a report on Saturday on the paper's website which cited "informed sources" saying Mursi was due to visit hospital, without giving a reason for the trip, al-Masry al-Youm said in an online account of the case against it.

The presidency denied Mursi was due to visit hospital. The paper said it had updated its initial story to say the president's visit had been cancelled and instead his wife had gone to the hospital to visit a family member.

Al-Masry Al-Youm said one of its editors had been summoned by the prosecutor for questioning next Saturday.

(Editing by Alison Williams)

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Comments (3)
Tiu wrote:
Somebody should point out to Mr Mursi that he has put himself in the public spot light, and if he want’s credibility he will accept such noises, and even personal insults, shouldn’t be investigated as some a “crime”. Even if he doesn’t like the comments.
Grow a spine, and stick to running the country. Otherwise Egypt risks falling under the wheels of another stupid, egotistical dictator… e.g. it will go backwards.

Jan 01, 2013 12:01pm EST  --  Report as abuse
1942.bill wrote:
Will the president face a probe for insulting the people of Egypt?

Jan 01, 2013 1:50pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Reuters1945 wrote:
“The problem is now is we are likely to see an increase in this because criminal defamation is now embedded in the constitution.”

Surprise, surprise. This is how it always begins with Dictatorships.

The loss of a nation’s freedom always begins with small, incremental steps, so that people are not fully aware of what is happening.

Night never descends over a land all at once but by slow degrees, with the gradual setting of the Sun, so that the speed of the approaching darkness is hardly perceptible. So too, do a people who once believed they were free, one day wake up and discover they have been enveloped by their worst type of nightmare.

We have seen this all before, throughout history. There is no need to recite the worst example in the 20th Century where it began with burning books and in the end led to burning people.

The tragedy of Egypt is that whilst they brought this nightmare upon themselves, there was almost a 50 % minority who early on, clearly saw the handwriting on the wall.

It is difficult to say whether it is already too late for the Egyptian people to save themselves. They threw off one form of Dictatorship only to go from the frying pan into the fire of religious extremism.

Once a government attempts to control freedom of speech, in particular something so basic as the human need to vent frustration via the medium of humor, the rest is a slippery slope into hell.

What is next ? Perhaps banning certain types of music, which is already the case in Iran- which is Egypt’s model.

A darkness is gradually descending over the Land of the Pharaohs which will freeze any hope of human progress or economic viability.

The question is whether it is already too late for the Egyptian people to rise up while they still can and push back against the forces that will place them in the straight jacket of Middle Age thinking.

How the Egyptian people respond to this present situation will be a strong indication of what is to come. Their future is in their own hands. One can only hope that Egyptian people of good will, intelligence and common sense are able to deal effectively with this present challenge, the outcome of which, will decide the direction their nation is going.

Jan 01, 2013 3:29pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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