Egypt’s top prosecutor has ordered an investigation into a complaint that alleges hugely popular satirist Bassem Youssef harmed national interests by ridiculing the country’s military in his TV show.
The decision by chief prosecutor Hesham Barakat, announced in a statement by his office on Monday, could be a prelude to further action against Youssef such as questioning and a possible trial. The investigation could also exonerate Youssef and lead to the complaints against him being shelved.
It's only an episode in a program, people.
For some Egyptians, whatever happens will answer the question of whether the government installed by the military after the toppling of president Mohamed Morsi on July 3 is serious about shepherding the country toward democracy.
Liberals, who backed removing the Islamist president, are already unhappy with what they see as a possible return to the human rights abuses and police brutality of Hosni Mubarak’s 29-year rule.
Several complaints were filed against Youssef after he mocked the pro-military fervour gripping Egypt in his first programme after a summer break.
Known for his fierce jabs at Morsi, Egyptians were keen to see how he would react to the events of the last few months.
He poked extensive fun at the adulation surrounding powerful military chief General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, lionized in the local media after leading a July 3 coup that ousted Morsi, though he held back from criticising the general himself.
Youssef’s only public comment on the complaints came on Friday after the show was aired.
“It is only an episode in a program, people,” he wrote on his Twitter account.
Monday’s statement by the chief prosecutor’s office said the complaint it chose to investigate accused Youssef of disturbing the peace, harming public interests, creating chaos, sowing sedition and threatening social security and peace.
It also alleges that Bassem inappropriately ridiculed the Egyptian people, the armed forces as well as all “honorable national icons” without respect for traditions and customs.
During Friday’s show, Youssef imitated el-Sissi’s soft-spoken, affectionate way of addressing the public, turning it into a lover’s romantic groove. In one skit, a woman named “the Public” calls into a love advice show raving about the love of her life who saved her from an abusive husband.
Youssef ruthlessly ridiculed Morsi, his Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamist allies during the ousted leader’s one year in office. Then, Morsi supporters also sued Youssef for insulting the presidency. He was questioned for hours by prosecutors, but was not charged with any crime.
Before returning to the air after a four-month absence, Youssef predicted in an article that he will continue to be pursued legally by his new critics “who allegedly love freedom dearly – when it works in their favour.”
A medical doctor by profession, he regularly skewers the country’s ruling party on his wildly popular weekly programme “Al-Bernameg” (The Show), which is modelled on popular American comedian Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show.