CAIRO – Egypt’s state prosecutors ordered the arrest Saturday of a popular television satirist for allegedly insulting Islam and the country’s leader, in a move that government opponents say is aimed at silencing critics of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
The arrest warrant for against Bassem Youssef, who has come to be known as Egypt’s Jon Stewart, followed an order earlier in the week by the country’s top prosecutor to arrest five prominent pro-democracy activists in what the opposition has characterized as a widening campaign against dissent.
The acceleration in legal action targeting protesters, activists and critics comes against a backdrop of continued unrest in the country. Political compromise between the well-organized Islamists in power and their vocal liberal and largely secular critics remains elusive, while the country’s economy is in near free fall.
The warrant against Youssef is the latest in a series of legal actions against the comedian, whose widely-watched weekly show has become a platform for lampooning the government, opposition, media and clerics. He has also used his program to fact-check politicians.
The fast-paced show has attracted a wide viewership, 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.”