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
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 0916 GMT (1716 HKT)
Branded an "extremist" by China's state-run media, Joshua Wong isn't even old enough to drive.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 0655 GMT (1455 HKT)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi surprised political pundits with his rapid rise to power. CNN meets the man behind the enigma.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
British journalist John Cantlie hadn't been seen in nearly two years. Now, he's the latest hostage to be paraded out by ISIS.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1049 GMT (1849 HKT)
British PM David Cameron has had the narrowest of political escapes.
The burial leader. The hospital gatekeeper. The disease detective. All telling powerful, stories from West Africa.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 2303 GMT (0703 HKT)
Alibaba's IPO is unlike anything investors have ever seen and could threaten other online retailers. Maggie Lake reports.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 0130 GMT (0930 HKT)
Indian PM Narendra Modi has said al Qaeda will fail if it seeks to spread its terror network into his country.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Put yourself in the shoes (and sixth-century black robes) of ISIS' Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the mysterious boss of the terror group.
September 20, 2014 -- Updated 1444 GMT (2244 HKT)
 Tennis Player Li Na attends the WTA Pre-Wimbledon Party as guests enjoy Ciroc Vodka presented by Dubai Duty Free at Kensington Roof Gardens on June 19, 2014 in London,
Asia's first grand slam singles champion Li Na has called time on her 15-year tennis career.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1409 GMT (2209 HKT)
Even death couldn't part two skeletons excavated from a lost chapel in an English county, found with their fingers entwined.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1100 GMT (1900 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT