Comedian Bassem Youssef has been called Egypt’s Jon Stewart.
While Stewart doesn’t always endear himself to those he aims his political satire at, there aren’t many who would seek to put him in jail for his jokes.
Yet as the world embarks on the first days of 2013, that is exactly the fate that Youssef and other notable critics of the new government may be facing in Egypt.
Egyptian prosecutors launched an investigation on Tuesday against a popular television satirist for allegedly insulting the president in the latest case raised by Islamist lawyers against outspoken media personalities.
Lawyer Ramadan Abdel-Hamid al-Oqsori charged that TV host Bassem Youssef insulted President Mohammed Morsi by putting the Islamist leader’s image on a pillow and parodying his speeches.
The case against Youssef comes as opposition media and independent journalists are growing increasingly worried about press freedoms under a new constitution widely supported by Morsi and his Islamist allies.
Other cases have been brought against media personalities who have criticized the president. Some of the cases have ended with charges being dropped. Morsi’s office maintains that the president has nothing to do with legal procedures against media critics.
On Tuesday, the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, one of Egypt’s most widely circulated newspapers, said Morsi’s office filed a complaint accusing it of “circulating false news likely to disturb public peace and public security and affect the administration.”
The paper had published a report earlier this week attributed to sources saying that Morsi was due to visit the hospital where ousted President Hosni Mubarak is receiving treatment after being injured in his prison cell. Mubarak is serving a life sentence for failing to stop the killing of nearly 900 protesters during the uprising against him.
A visit by Morsi would have enflamed public anger. The paper later updated the story to say that Morsi’s wife had only visited a relative in that hospital.
The paper said a reporter and an editor were summoned for interrogation.
None of this is surprising.