A POPULAR television satirist in Egypt was released on bail last night after nearly five hours of interrogation over allegations that he broke the law by insulting Islam and the country’s president.
Bassem Youssef is the most prominent critic of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi to be called in for questioning in recent weeks in what the opposition says is a campaign to intimidate critics. Arrest warrants have been issued for five prominent anti-government activists accused of instigating violence.
A prosecution official said Youssef was to pay a bail of £1,450, pending the completion of an investigation. Rights lawyer Gamal Eid said the release on bail means “all options are open”.
“The prosecution could continue investigation, put the case aside or send it to trial,” he said.
Youssef, the host of the weekly show ElBernameg, or The Programme, is known for his skits lampooning Mr Morsi and Egypt’s newly empowered political class, but he also mocks the opposition and the media.
Several dozen supporters gathered outside the public prosecutor’s office as he presented himself for questioning a day after a warrant for his arrest was first reported in the media.
He tweeted a series of quips from the prosecutor’s office. “They asked me the colour of my eyes. Really,” one read.
A news broadcaster at a TV station affiliated with Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group, Misr 25, said he was “mocking” the investigation, and his tweets later were erased.
The fast-paced show has attracted a wide audience, while at the same time earning itself its fair share of detractors. Youssef has been a frequent target of lawsuits, most of them brought by Islamist lawyers who have accused him of “corrupting morals” or violating “religious principles.”
Youssef frequently imitates Mr Morsi’s speeches and gestures. He has fact-checked the president, and in one particularly popular episode earlier this year, Youssef played video clips showing remarks by Morsi, made in 2010 before he became president, where the Muslim Brotherhood veteran called Zionists “pigs”.
The remarks caused a brief diplomatic tiff with the US administration, and Mr Morsi had to issue a statement to defuse the situation.
In his last episode this week, Youssef thanked Mr Morsi for providing him with so much material.
Youssef has also made regular jokes about comments by Islamic clerics and Islamic stations TV presenters, exposing contradictions between their comments and public speeches and what he considers the spirit of Islam.
In remarks to a TV presenter on CBC, the private station that airs his Friday programme, Youssef said on Saturday that his program does not insult Islam but aims to expose those who “distort” it.
“We don’t insult religion. What we do is expose those so-called religious and Islamic stations which have offended Islam more than anyone else,” he said. “If anyone is to be investigated for insulting religions, it should be all those who use Islam as a weapon and a political tool.”