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Facing jail for jokes: crackdown means ‘revolution's hopes destroyed’

April 3rd, 2013
05:35 PM ET

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.”

Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode
soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Starofdavidscotland

    Welcome to "democracy" Arab stylee. Thank good news for Israel the only actual democracy in the entire 99.5% Arab occupied Middle East where commentators regularly ridicule the PM whatever the colour of their politics – and DONT end up in jail for it

    Hail hail Israel.

    April 3, 2013 at 6:00 pm | Reply
  2. abir

    Not defending Morsy but how do you explain this?:

    April 3, 2013 at 7:08 pm | Reply
  3. Silverado

    Islam is the cruelest joke on basic human rights.

    April 3, 2013 at 7:41 pm | Reply
  4. Jordan

    Morsi and his MB have no idea about ruling a country like Egypt. They are a bunch of idiots who lean on their terrorists friends like Hamas and Qater to help them. they will end up buying egypt and kicking the MBs out.

    April 3, 2013 at 8:29 pm | Reply
  5. billy

    Islam can only rule by fear ad that is why Islam is a total failure.

    April 3, 2013 at 8:54 pm | Reply
    • jimmy lim

      Yes there is very little hope for democracy, freedoms of expression, speech and religion in any islamic country. Islam is the curse. Islamic countries are the poorest in the world apart fromgulf countries bcos of oil not bcos of innovation, intelligence, diligence, invention etc

      April 4, 2013 at 10:44 am | Reply
    • ThugMighty

      The women of Islam could save Islam – but they accept to be docile... and expect Christianity to liberate them!!
      (One man has 4 wives.... they can tie him up and drop him over the balcony!! and if he has a stupid son, the stupid son's wife will handle that end of the business!) #NoToTerror

      April 6, 2013 at 12:27 am | Reply
      • Bribri

        Yes but muslim men are not that stupid. They know from Prophet Muhammad that muslim women are deficient in intelligence (Bukhari 1:6:301). That's why they marry them! 😉

        April 6, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
    • Ahmed

      do you know what I hate most about religious extremist Islamists ?? I hate their racism and hate against other religions and other opinions. Now you are doing the exact same thing. My friend, the only difference between you and them is the place you were born.

      April 8, 2013 at 6:53 am | Reply
  6. wesley

    The more things seem to change the more they remain the same or even worse.....Morsy has taken Egypt back to the time of the pharaohs where the kings decree was the law.

    April 3, 2013 at 9:18 pm | Reply
  7. The Thinker1958

    Sadly, Egyptians, when they were suppose to choose the best person to be President, every single group of people run with its own candidate while the Muslim Brotherhood was united behind only one person, and of course.... they ended winning. Democratic and Progressives have to run elections before the Presidential election, and find the best person that represents them. One candidate for the Liberal Party in Canada is trying to do the same thing to run against the Conservative candidate, who is in power with maybe 42% of the support.

    April 3, 2013 at 9:40 pm | Reply
  8. Ngoc Tran

    Well I certainly think democracy, freedom of speech and freedom of press, being able to express our opinions and views openly, honestly without any fears is what we all want, a beautiful and rather perfect ideology. It helps not only to eradicate and prevent dictatorship, corruption but also give a clearer and a more complete picture of the story with all sides of the argument, respecting everyone's views and opinions. However, it also comes with a price, an expensive one indeed, because once that is abused, all we see is an ugly picture of the war of words, people mocking, ridiculing, gossipping and backstabbing each other, the authority, the government no longer gets the respect needed to rule the country, the truth is manipulated and distorted, people themselves do not know who to trust in, causing nothing but disorder, chaos, internal conflict and even civil war. Maybe that is the reason why people wonder if it is worth it and doubt the true value of democracy.

    April 4, 2013 at 5:43 am | Reply
  9. mustaphalecheheb

    You don't know what are the borders of the joke. criticising any president is acceptable, but criticizing any religion is a red line. we are muslims, we prohibit all jokes concerning other religions and beliefs. So, please Mrs Christiane Amanpour, don't be more emotional. I am sure that you haven't understood the Bassem Youssef jokes.Try to learn Arabic before writing any article about Arabs. Here I am not defending Dr Morssi, because I am not Egyptian. Personally, I don' t accept any one criticises your belief or your religion, even your personal life. so, again please (1000000times) be reasonable and neuter,as you have learned before being a journalist. you should know that i respect you, you are the best reporter in CNN.

    April 4, 2013 at 6:45 am | Reply
    • Northy

      . Bassem DID NOT insult islam. He mocked islamists and their double standard or talks. Any only claiming such a thing is a LIAR. I listen to his Program,... very smart and witty.

      April 6, 2013 at 12:00 am | Reply
      • Ahmed

        I totally agree with Northy. Bassem did NOT insult islam. Mocking the behavior of extreme Islamists like Morsy and his party, is not mocking Islam. Besides, @ mustaphalecheheb, you say that insulting other religions is prohibited in Egypt, then, when Morsy insults the jews many times saying about them "the descendants of apes and pigs", why he is not interrogated and put in jail ?? why is this double standards ?? This is pure injustice and dictatorship.

        April 8, 2013 at 7:03 am |
  10. Jocho Johnson

    But Frida Ghits said just yesterday that the Middle East now is a shining light in the world of democracy and freedom

    April 4, 2013 at 7:57 am | Reply
  11. APO_AE_09173

    Really. WHO didn't see this coming?

    What idiot, drunk off their butt couldn't see dictatership coming. These are the people who pray for the Caliphate's return. Islamic law–imposed on people. Discrimination against other faiths ENCODED into the laws.

    Yep–total shock. Liars

    April 4, 2013 at 3:57 pm | Reply
  12. Northy

    All Egyptians are paying an incredible hefty price for people like Bassem’s and Christine's guest Hossam’s presidential election choice of Morsi the muslim brotherhood candidate. Now Bassem is suffering from his bad choice as many more. Muslim Brotherhood long vicious and black history was ignored by those who supported its candidate and helped to pull Egypt into darkness.

    April 5, 2013 at 11:54 pm | Reply
  13. ThugMighty

    There's no future for Morsi in Egypt.
    That much should be clear to all non-insane folks by now.
    Morsi is past tense already!

    April 6, 2013 at 12:22 am | Reply
  14. Khaled

    To the people flipping about Islam and relating it to terror:

    Islam = Peace... you should look it up somewhere 🙂 or watch this:

    April 6, 2013 at 7:39 am | Reply
  15. Ibrahim Abdulkadir

    This is a classical theory of the chicken comin home to roast.

    April 8, 2013 at 10:49 am | Reply

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