Skip to main content

Prosecutors question 'Egypt's Jon Stewart'

From Ian Lee and Amir Ahmed, CNN
April 1, 2013 -- Updated 1001 GMT (1801 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Complaints have been filed alleging that Bassem Youssef insulted Islam, Egypt's president
  • The popular Egyptian television host is released on bond after questioning by prosecutors
  • Youssef is a satirist whom some compare to Jon Stewart for his irreverent take on politics
  • While he was questioned, he mocked officials in a string of Twitter posts

Cairo (CNN) -- It was a welcome more suited for a rock star than a wanted man.

A mob of cheering fans surrounded Egypt's high court on Sunday, chanting Bassem Youssef's name.

Two years ago, Youssef was a heart surgeon producing satirical YouTube videos from inside his Cairo apartment.

Now, he's one of Egypt's best-known television personalities, with a nationally broadcast program that has drawn comparisons to Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" for its irreverent take on Egyptian politics.

But the popularity he won by pushing the boundaries of free speech comes with a price.

2012: Man brings satire to Egypt TV

Egypt's public prosecutor summoned Youssef for questioning on Sunday, accusing him of insulting President Mohamed Morsy and Islam.

He was released on $2,200 bail in response to three lawsuits filed against him, the prosecutor general's office told CNN.

Youssef's satirical commentary didn't stop during his questioning on Sunday.

The blue-eyed comedian offered a steady stream of Twitter posts about the experience.

He mocked officers recording his physical description for asking him his eye color as he stood in front of them.

He poked fun at the prosecutor's office, tweeting that officials could not find a laptop to see episodes from his show.

"A policeman and a lawyer from the General Prosecutors Office want to take their pictures with (me). Could this be the reason I was summoned?" he wrote.

The prosecutor has said Youssef's weekly show is insulting not just to the president but to Islam itself.

In recent days, some lawyers filed complaints on behalf of Egyptians making those allegations.

But the prosecutor has provided no details, and Youssef is a practicing Muslim.

It is a crime in Egypt to insult any religion.

In December, Youssef said that he thought Morsy and other Egyptian politicians were accepting his show, "Al Bernameg" ("The Program").

"I think this is actually the best time to have a political satire program in Egypt," he told CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

"Basically we are the drama queen of the world, with everything happening. We're kind of the international political soap opera," he said. "So it's a great time and era to have a political satire to comment on everything that's happening."

But he noted that some Egyptians had accused him of being anti-Islam.

"I'm proud to be an Egyptian and a Muslim," he told Amanpour. "My mom is always concerned every time I go on TV. She's afraid that I'm going to be caught and put in prison. But you know, that's what moms do. But I satirize. The way it goes down with people, many are actually accepting it. And actually, it's empowering a lot of people that they think that this speaks on their behalf."

Recently some people critical of Morsy's government have been arrested or brought in for questioning, a tactic critics have said is reminiscent of the ousted Hosni Mubarak government. Some have accused the government of trying to stifle free speech.

"Pathetic efforts to smother dissent and intimidate media is a sign of a shaky regime and a bunker mentality," Mohamed ElBaradei, an Egyptian opposition leader and former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, wrote in a Twitter post Saturday.

In January, Morsy told CNN he was committed to allowing free speech in his country.

Social media helped propel Youssef to fame, and social media posts swelled in support of him Sunday.

But after he was released on bail, the TV host offered a more serious message to his 1.2 million Twitter followers: "Touched by people's support and media attention, however, there are many more activists being prosecuted that deserve to get that support."

CNN's Ian Lee reported from Cairo. CNN's Amir Ahmed reported from Atlanta. CNN's Salma Abdelaziz and Neda Farshbaf and journalist Adam Makary contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 0023 GMT (0823 HKT)
Wilson Raj Perumal tells CNN how he rigged World Cup games: "I was giving orders to the coach."
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0823 GMT (1623 HKT)
He should be toddling around a playground. Instead, his tiny hands grip an AK-47.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1652 GMT (0052 HKT)
CNN's Will Ripley travels to North Korea, visiting an international wrestling festival and a slide-filled water park.
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 0920 GMT (1720 HKT)
Our whole solar system appears to be inside a searing gas bubble, scientists say.
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1230 GMT (2030 HKT)
In a raid on a luxury apartment complex, agents caught up with a French-Algerian man they accuse of bringing back terror to Europe.
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 0002 GMT (0802 HKT)
One journalist murdered, another still being held by ISIS -- a ransom negotiator talks to CNN about trying to get a hostage home alive.
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1228 GMT (2028 HKT)
Was a police officer justified in shooting and killing Michael Brown?
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1654 GMT (0054 HKT)
Don't like the country you live in? Meet the people who created their own "micronations."
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1835 GMT (0235 HKT)
South Africa Music Legends stamps
Artist Hendrik Gericke puts a spotlight on iconic performers from South Africa in these incredible monochrome illustrations.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 0946 GMT (1746 HKT)
We asked you what you would like to know about Ebola. Experts answer some of your most common questions and concerns.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT