Bassem Youssef appeared on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart last June and was at SXSW last month to discuss the evolving roles of comedy, satire and entertainment in the Middle East. Over the weekend, the man known as “The Jon Stewart of the Arab World” was summoned for questioning by Egypt’s public prosecutor after an arrest warrant was issued on accusations of insulting Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and the Islamic faith. Youssef appeared in court Sunday where he posted $2,200 bail on three lawsuits filed against him, according to CNN. He wrote on Twitter that there was a fourth pending, but that no date had been given for an investigation. Youssef has been sued before, but this is the first time the prosecutor has followed up with legal action. He joked with Stewart last June about receiving death threats over his show.
A former heart surgeon who is also a practicing Muslim, Youssef rose to popularity with satirical videos he posted on YouTube during the Arab Spring. He segued to satellite TV where his Daily Show-like news mag, The Program, is watched by a reported 30M viewers across the Middle East. Per the BBC, sketches in which Youssef put Morsi’s image on a pillow and separately portrayed him as a pharaoh dubbed “Super Morsi,” so angered one Islamist lawyer that it resulted in a formal complaint leading to the warrant this weekend.
In a video interview at SXSW in March, Youssef said, “We’re not exactly the most stable democracy… We’re at a turning point so people maybe don’t take criticism as well as they do” in America. “Maybe it’s good to shock people, but it’s never good to alienate people. I attack people who use religion in politics, but I don’t attack people who believe, no matter how silly or stupid or bad you think it is. At the end of the day, it’s their beliefs.”
Youssef’s arrest comes as the Morsi government has been accused of trying to stifle free speech. Last week, five anti-Islamist activists were ordered arrested on charges of using social media to incite violence against Morsi’s party, the Muslim Brotherhood, The NYT noted. Youssef, who mainly posts on Twitter in Arabic, wrote in English on Sunday: “Touched by people’s support and media attention, however, there are many more activists being prosecuted that deserve to get that support.”
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