Cairo: Egypt’s famed political satirist Bassem Yousuf, a nemesis to hardline Islamists, has said that his lampooning approach is not personal, a day after the country’s chief prosecutor ordered an inquiry into claims that Yousuf had mocked President Mohammad Mursi in his TV show.
“I do not criticise persons, but their sayings and deeds,” Yousuf, a heart surgeon by profession, was quoted by the independent newspaper Al Masry Al Youm as saying.
Two lawyers, believed to be supporters of Mursi, have filed complaints against Yousuf, requesting that his widely popular weekly show be suspended allegedly for insulting the Islamist president.
One lawyer, Ramadan Al Oqsuri, said in his complaint that Yousuf used in his show media material that degraded Mursi before the outside world by placing his photo on a pillow and parodying his speeches.
“I respect and esteem everyone mentioned in my programme,” Yousuf said. “The presidential office has not yet filed any complaint against me. The complaints filed so far come from persons who have nothing to do with the issue.”
Yousuf rose to fame in early 2011 when he uploaded on the internet YouTube videos he had shot inside his house poking fun at Egyptian state television’s distorted handling of mass protests that eventually forced the then president Hosni Mubarak to step down.
In the following months, Yousuf appeared on the liberal privately owned station On TV and presented a weekly satirical show titled Al Bernameg (The Programme) modelled after Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show in the US.
Late last year, Yousuf moved with his show to the privately owned CBC TV, presenting a series of episodes targeting hardline Islamists for their unorthodox views of opponents and President Mursi granting himself temporary sweeping powers.
The lawsuits against Yousuf are the latest in what the country’s liberal-minded opposition calls a crackdown by the ruling Islamists on freedom of expression.
Al Masry Al Youm reported on Wednesday that Mursi’s office had taken legal action against the newspaper for allegedly spreading false news that could “disrupt public order”.
The paper said the complaint was related to a news report carried earlier in the week by its website that Mursi would visit a military hospital where his predecessor Mubarak is staying.
“Quizzing Bassem Yousuf is a crime against all of us,” said Egyptian poet Tamim Al Barghuthi. “This is an aggression on the people’s right to speak and a scandal for this government,” he added.
The opposition claims an Islamist-drafted constitution, recently approved in a controversial public vote, undermines fundamental rights, including freedom of expression.
Critics say the charter allows the closure of newspapers by court rulings and places curbs on launching private satellite TV channels.
“Yousuf’s show... may appear going off limits and a taboo breaker to conservatives, who are a majority in Egypt,” said entertainment critic Samir Farid. “But genuine freedom does not know limits and is attained by breaking taboos.”
Yousuf said in a recent TV interview that his show is examined by a legal advisor before it hits the air to ensure it does not violate the law.