Jon Stewart sparks Twitter fight between U.S. Embassy and Egyptian president’s office

April 2, 2013

The U.S. Embassy in Cairo has earned a reputation for being awfully active on Twitter, where it often engages critics directly and, at times, even jabs at Egypt's most powerful people and institutions.

The embassy's official Twitter feed took a bit of a swipe at Egyptian President Mohamamed Morsi today, linking to a "Daily Show" segment in which Jon Stewart lambasted Morsi for his government's arrest of Bassem Youssef, a hugely popular TV political satirist who is sometimes compared to Stewart himself. Youssef, now released on bail, was imprisoned briefly this weekend for "insulting Islam" and "belittling" Morsi.

The searing "Daily Show" segment portrayed Morsi as clownish, hypocritical, abusive and insecure. "When you are actually powerful, you don’t have to be petty," Stewart said, talking directly into the camera. "For someone who spent time in jail yourself under [former President Hosni] Mubarak, you seem awfully eager to send other people there for the same non-crimes. And just like you, they will emerge stronger and more determined." At one point, he referred to Morsi as a "crazy guy."

Within a few hours, the official Twitter feed of the Egyptian president's office responded directly, tweeting back at the embassy, "It's inappropriate for a diplomatic mission to engage in such negative political propaganda." Strong words, chastising the embassy and calling its tweet, and perhaps the Daily Show segment itself, "negative political propaganda." This is not Morsi's personal Twitter account, but it does represent his office and is marked as "verified" by Twitter.

Both Youssef and Stewart were included on the entire Twitter exchange. But it's hard to imagine either of them responding. Ironically, these two TV hosts each have a far, far larger online following than either the U.S. Embassy or the president's office.

Update:
Late on Tuesday, the official Twitter account of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood posted a video alleging that Jews control the U.S. media, an apparent swipe at Stewart for his segment. On Wednesday, the U.S. embassy in Cairo briefly deleted its Twitter feed outright, later reinstating it under apparent pressure from the State Department in Washington.

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Max Fisher · April 2, 2013