Egypt's state prosecutor ordered on Tuesday an investigation into a claim that popular satirical show host Bassem Youssef insulted President Mohamed Mursi, a judicial source said.
On his show Al-Barnameg (The Program), Youssef, dubbed the Egyptian Jon Stewart, had poked fun at the ruling Islamists and Mursi's temporary adoption of extensive powers in November and December.
He may be summoned for questioning after the case was transferred to a Cairo prosecutor for investigation, the source said.
The lawyer who filed the complaint, Ramadan Abdel Hamid al-Aqsari, had in the past sought to sue a range of media personalities and politicians.
The state prosecutor, Talaat Ibrahim, had on Dec. 27 ordered a probe into three top opposition leaders accused of trying to incite Mursi's overthrow.
The lawyer who filed that complaint has since recanted.
“I don’t criticize, I satirize. I make fun, which is even more shocking. Whoever is in authority will have to deal with our program,” Youssef told Al Arabiya last month.
In a country where the lines are blurred between politics and religion, Youssef says he gets a lot of heat from Islamists whom he considers Egypt’s right wingers.
“Our right wing here in Egypt is different from the U.S. because people here are more emotional about religion, they can’t differentiate between politics and religion. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis are the right wing, I don’t deal with them as religious groups but as political groups,” he said.
In the first episode of the second season of his show, Youssef launched a satirical attack on presenters who host news talk shows on the same channel.
He described a show hosted by Emad Eldeen Adeeb, one of the few media personalities in the country to interview toppled former President Hosni Mubarak, as a snooze-fest, while displaying a picture of a made-up Facebook page.
The page’s title read “We are all Emad Eldin Adeeb,” in reference to the popular Egyptian Facebook page “We are all Khaled Said,” an Egyptian who was tortured to death by police officers, sparking mass protests for his cause.
In the past, Youssef has become known among Egyptians for poking fun at presidential and media-related problems in the country.
In one sketch of the episode, Youssef also lampooned the TV channel, saying it aligned to remnants of the Mubarak regime. But when a cash machine graphic pops up on the screen next Youssef, an intentional tongue-in-cheek reminder to the host that the channel is paying his wage, he changes course and praises CBC for “inciting the revolution,” joking that the channel is revolutionary after all.
“If Dr. Youssef wants to satirically mock other people’s actions and words, then he must know this is a channel with aims towards democracy, which is why no one should take things personally,” Adeeb said on his talk show which followed Youssef’s.
“But there is a red line, for those who understand the real difference between political satire and what can be legally be seen as an insult and defamation,” Adeeb added.
“Egyptians have a long history as the region's funny men. In many other Arab countries, Egyptians are known as “ibn nukta”, or “the son of jokes”. The sheer number of jokes from Egypt reveals the importance of humor in daily life,” wrote journalist Megan Detrie earlier this year, in an article on surging “political comedy” in the country.
But has Youssef taken it too far?
The satirist also portrayed news TV host Khairy Ramadan as a media “charity case,” as described by Egyptian media, pointing (what he portrayed to be) “too nice,” naïve, simple-minded comments made by the presenter about the country being in a bad state.
Following the episode, Youssef posted on his Twitter account “BRING IT ON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” prompting over 600 retweets and responses from Twitter users related to Adeeb’s threat to pursue legal action against the satirist.