By Mick Krever, CNN
For two veteran Egypt observers, it is abundantly clear that the government’s crackdown on satirist Bassem Youssef is coming directly from the top, President Mohamed Morsy.
“To say that Morsy is not behind the persecution and prosecution of Bassem Youssef is, I think, nuts,” Journalist Christopher Dickey, currently the Middle East editor for Newsweek Magazine, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, agreed, and said that the complaints themselves came from Morsy.
“The majority of complaints for insulting the president were formally filed by the office of the president,” he said.
Morsy’s office has claimed that the judiciary is completely independent.
The crackdown, Dickey and Bahgat said, is a disturbingly familiar sight.
“This is straight out of the Mubarak playbook,” Bahgat said. “That’s exactly what he used to do.”
“It really does look more like Mubarak all the time,” Dickey chimed in. “It’s really stunning.”
Youssef, who is known as the “Jon Stewart of Egypt,” was questioned by the public prosecutor for five hours on Sunday over complaints that he had insulted the president and Islam on his weekly show, El Bernameg (“The Program”).
The prosecutor claimed that he was simply doing his job, by investigating complaints levied by the public.
Youssef’s saga led to a diplomatic scandal of true twenty-first century proportions on Wednesday.
At the U.S. embassy in Cairo, a hapless staffer sent out a Tweet – from the official government account – linking to a segment that Jon Stewart’ “The Daily Show” had done on the interrogation of Youssef.
Lest it be out-Tweeted, the Egyptian government quickly struck back.
A Tweet sent from the official presidential account berated the Americans: “It’s inappropriate for a diplomatic mission to engage in such negative political propaganda.”
Bahgat gave a rhetorical eyeroll to the internet fued.
“The Morsy government and the office of the president,” he said, “are again following two very well-established tactics: Turning this into a fight with the U.S. and turning this into a fight over insulting Islam. Whereas it’s really Morsy getting fed up with Bassem’s satire.”
What remains unclear is what the Morsy government is trying to accomplish with this latest crackdown – is it just a scare tactic? A genuine effort to silence Youssef?
“I doubt that they’ll be stupid enough to send Bassem Youssef to jail, but they definitely are trying to draw red lines,” Dickey said. “The big red line, whether it was under Mubarak or under Mohamed Morsy, is the president. You don’t insult the president.”
Just a few months ago, in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Morsy did not seem to draw such a line.
Blitzer asked the Egyptian president if Youssef had anything to fear by insulting the government.
“They are part of my family from Egypt,” Morsy responded. “There is no way that any harm can befall them because of their opinions or their personal opposition. There is no possible way to talk about or discuss jails or imprisonment.”
Almost one year into a presidency that carried with it the hopes of a revolution that captivated the world, Morsy has disappointed many.
“The Muslim Brotherhood existed for years and years claiming ‘Islam is the solution,’” Dickey said. “But when you’re really in government, Islam is not really the solution. You solve things by solving real problems, and they can’t do it. And they’re desperate right now.”
Baghat supported Morsy in his bid for the presidency, but is now unsympathetic in his appraisal of the Muslim Brotherhood candidate.
“What the Muslim Brotherhood did is not just destroy our hopes and the hopes of this revolution,” he said, “but also destroy their own project that they’ve waited to implement for eighty years.”
In cracking down on the press, going after NGOs, and killing demonstrators, Baghat saw nothing less than the very recognizable footsteps of Hosni Mubarak.
“When you go after the space that is available for dissent and for freedom of expression,” Baghat said, “you know that this is a regime in trouble.”