Video of the Egyptian satirist arrested for ‘belittling’ the president, ‘insulting Islam’

Bassem Youssef is a big deal in Egypt, where his satirical news show has 30 million regular viewers, earning him the label, "Egypt's Jon Stewart." Youssef's funny, often cutting commentary has made him a thorn in President Mohammed Morsi's side as a high-profile source of withering criticism. It's also made him quite influential in Egypt, where humor – especially political satire – has long been deeply valued.

On Saturday, a public prosecutor whom Morsi himself appointed in November, rather than going through the normal checks and balances, issued an arrest warrant for Youssef and four other prominent critics of the government.

The charges include "insulting Islam" and, according to one state prosecutor, "belittling" Morsi. It's not a particularly self-secure government that arrests critics for "belittling" its leader. That's not meant as a swipe, but rather an observation about the ruling style of Morsi's government, which has seemed at times to act, and perhaps overreact, out of paranoia.

On Sunday, Youssef was released on bail after hours of interrogation, but he could still face charges. Heba Morayef of Human Rights Watch had told the New York Times that the arrest warrant for Youssef "is completely unnecessary and definitely a political escalation." Michael Hanna, a fellow at the Century Foundation, wrote on Twitter that the "Egyptian criminal justice system has been wholly politicized and is now a tool for factional advantage through malicious investigation and arrest."

The above video, from early March, shows some clips from Youssef's show. I highly recommend clicking ahead to about 3:30, when Youssef makes fun of Morsi's habit of wagging his finger in public speeches. Youssef also says of Morsi, in an English-language interview in the video: "I would love to have him" on the show. "Actually it is my dream to have him."

"Maybe Morsi himself is actually watching the show and having fun," Youssef speculates during the interview. "I think the guy has a sense of humor somewhere in him." Not much evidence for this theory so far.

Youssef is certainly still trying to get a laugh. On Sunday, when he appeared before an Egyptian high court, he wore, according to the Times, "an enormous black hat — modeled on one that Mr. Morsi wore while receiving an honorary degree in Pakistan last month."

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Max Fisher · April 1, 2013