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'Egypt's Jon Stewart' Questioned For Five Hours

Television satirist Bassem Youssef waves to supporters as he enters Egypt's state prosecutors office to face accusations of insulting Islam and the country's Islamist leader in Cairo on Sunday.
Television satirist Bassem Youssef waves to supporters as he enters Egypt's state prosecutors office to face accusations of insulting Islam and the country's Islamist leader in Cairo on Sunday.

After nearly five hours of questioning, the satirist known as the "Egyptian Jon Stewart" was released on bail Sunday.

Bassem Youssef is charged with insulting Islam and President Mohammed Morsi. He's among the most prominent critics of Egypt's Islamist president to be called in for questioning recently, prompting concerns that the president is cracking down on his detractors and members of the opposition.

Youssef is a doctor-turned-celebrity who came by his star status by lampooning public figures and the media. Politicians of all stripes are regularly skewered on his weekly TV show, "ElBernameg," or "The Program," and that's made him both popular and not, as the AP reports:

"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.'"

Youssef's bail is reportedly set at around $2,200, pending the completion of an investigation, the AP says. He's not the only political activist to be targeted this week; the BBC reports five others have been ordered arrested on "inciting aggression" against the Muslim Brotherhood — the group that propelled Morsi to the presidency.

These latest arrest warrants add to fears for free speech in the transitioning country. The BBC reports:

"Many journalists have criticised the Islamist-backed constitution which came into force earlier this year, arguing it does not offer enough guarantees for a free media."

The satirist took his investigation in stride, arriving at the prosecutor general's office wearing a giant hat that lampooned one worn by Morsi earlier this month when the president accepted an honorary degree in Pakistan, as Reuter's notes.

Youssef's also been reporting on his own case, NPR's Leila Fadel told our Newscast desk:

"On Twitter he confirmed that he was summoned and would turn himself into the prosecution for questioning on Sunday. He joked that if the police came to get him, it would save him transportation expenses."

If you'd like a better idea of Youssef's comedy stylings but don't speak Egyptian, check out his appearance on The Daily Show with (the actual) Jon Stewartback in June.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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