CAIRO – Egypt’s most popular television satirist, who every week skewers the Islamist president and hard-line clerics on his Jon Stewart-style show, was released on bail Sunday but could face charges of insulting the country’s leader and Islam.
Bassem Youssef is the most prominent critic of President Mohammed Morsi to be called in for questioning in recent weeks, in what the opposition says is a campaign to intimidate critics amid wave after wave of political unrest in deeply polarized Egypt.
Arrest warrants have been issued for five prominent anti-government activists accused of instigating violence.
Deputy chief prosecutor Hassan Yassin denied the nearly five-hour interrogation was part of an intimidation campaign and said his department was enforcing the law and seeking to establish some guidelines on freedom of expression.
Morsi last week accused private media of fanning violence and argued that it was being used for political aims.
But Yassin denied that the prosecutor’s office was operating at Morsi’s behest to go after his critics, saying it has also interrogated and sentenced Islamists. Morsi appointed the chief prosecutor late last year despite an outcry from many in the judiciary who accused him of trampling on their right to choose the top prosecutor.
“There is no contact between us and the presidency,” Yassin said. “Just like we moved against someone who insults Christianity, we moved against someone who is accused of insulting Islam.”
Youssef, the host of a weekly political satire show, is known for his skits lampooning Morsi and Egypt’s newly empowered Islamist political class. But he also mocks the opposition and the media.
Youssef has been a frequent target of lawsuits, most brought by Islamist lawyers.
In his last episode last week, Youssef thanked Morsi for providing him with so much material.
A prosecution official said Youssef was to pay a bail of $2,200, pending the completion of an investigation. Youssef tweeted that the bail is for three separate cases.
Rights lawyer Gamel Eid said the release on bail means all options are open.
Meanwhile, in Egypt’s second largest city, Alexandria, 11 people detained Saturday including five lawyers accused of attacking a police station, were released without charges.