Bassem Youssef, a popular Egyptian prominent television news presenter and satirist, has been questioned by prosecutors over allegations that he insulted Islam and the country’s president, Mohamed Morsi.
Youssef turned himself in after the prosecutor-general issued an arrest warrant for him on Saturday. He was released on bail of $2,200 (15,000 Egyptian pounds), an official in the prosecutor’s office said on Sunday.
The warrant for Youssef was the latest legal action to take aim at a critic of Mohamed Morsi. The comedian is accused, among other things, of undermining the standing of President Morsi. The prosecutor-general issued the arrest warrant after at least four legal complaints filed by Morsi supporters.
On his official Twitter account, Youssef said he was handing himself over on Sunday, “unless they kindly send a police van today and save me the transportation hassle”.
The warrant marks the latest in a series of legal actions against the comedian, who has come to be known as Egypt’s Jon Stewart.
Youssef’s widely watched weekly show, ElBernameg, or The Programme, has become a platform for lampooning the government, opposition, media and religious leaders. The fast-paced show has attracted a wide viewership.
The presenter has been a frequent target of legal petitions, most of them brought by lawyers who have accused him of “corrupting morals” or violating “religious principles”. He has faced several court cases in the past, also accusing him of insulting Morsi.
Gamal Eid, a lawyer for Youssef, said this is the first time an arrest warrant has been issued for the comedian.
Arriving at the prosecutor general’s office on Sunday, Youssef was wearing an oversized version of a graduation hat modelled on one donned by the president when he was awarded an honorary degree in Pakistan earlier in March.
Youssef has worn the hat on his widely-watched show, one of many satirical jabs at the president. Last year, he poked fun of
Mursi’s repeated use of the word “love” by singing a love song to a red pillow with the president’s face printed on it.
The questioning of the comedian has raised fears over freedom expression in the post-Mubarak Egypt.
“It is an escalation in an attempt to restrict space for critical expression,” said Heba Morayef, Egypt director at Human
Prominent liberal politician Mohamed ElBaradei said it was the kind action only seen in “fascist regimes”. “It is the
continuation of the failed and ugly moves to thwart the revolution,” he said.
Youssef’s questioning came after the prosecutor-general issued five arrest warrants for prominent political activists accused of inciting violence against the Muslim Brotherhood, the group that propelled Morsi to power in last year’s election. The prosecutor’s office has also summoned several other prominent media figures for questioning over accusations they
insulted the president.
Eid said the warrant fits into a widening campaign against government critics, media personalities and activists.
“The prosecution has become a tool to go after the regime’s opposition and intimidate it,” Eid said.