Egyptian prosecutors on Wednesday questioned a stand-up comedian on blasphemy charges following a guest appearance on the show of popular satirist Bassem Youssef, himself the subject of an investigation.
Ali Kandil is accused of insulting Islam during a segment on Youssef’s show Elbernameg in February, in which he poked fun at the discourse and style of some Muslim clerics -- bringing to television screens what is already widely said in Egyptian homes.
Kandil’s questioning comes hours after Islamist President Mohamed Morsi stressed Egypt’s commitment to freedom of expression.
“The presidency reiterates the importance of freedom of expression and fully respects press freedom,” Mursi’s office said in a statement.
In a video posted on the Internet, Kandil dismissed the charges against him as “utter nonsense” but said he would go to the prosecutor’s office because he had nothing to hide.
“I take responsibility for every word I said,” Kandil said.
He said that it was people’s responsibility to uphold the goals of the 2011 revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak -- bread, freedom and social justice.
“The part in my control, the one I can guarantee in my role, is freedom, freedom of expression,” Kandil said.
The soaring number of legal complaints against journalists has cast doubt on Morsi’s commitment to freedom of expression.
Youssef’s high profile case prompted the United States to express “real concerns” about the direction being taken by the Egyptian government.
Youssef’s fight for free speech was buoyed on Monday by top U.S. satirist Jon Stewart, who Youssef has been internationally likened to.
Continuing Youssef’s theme of poking fun at the Egyptian president, Stewart did the same.
“I know Bassem pretty well,” Stewart said on his Monday night episode of The Daily Show, “so you can imagine I was shocked that this whole time I was consorting with a criminal!”
“If insulting the presidency and Islam here were illegal [in the U.S.], Fox News would go bye-bye!”
“Sounds like Egypt’s Mohammed Mursi’s got his hands full,” adds Stewart after a brief rundown of crises in Egypt which have peaked since the revolution, including diving tourism revenues, economic drawbacks, aging infrastructure and a spike in sexual harassment.
“Can’t wait to see how President Mursi tackles these complex and urgent issues,” he satirically says before beginning to chew over the arrest of Youssef for insulting the presidency, which included mocking Mursi for his English skills and for the hat he wore in Pakistan while being awarded an honorary degree.
“Making fun of the president’s hat and his less-than-fluent English, that was my entire career for eight years!” Stewart said, bringing up an image of a previous George Bush sketch, in which he wore a hat identical to that one worn by the former U.S. president.
“Has he [Youssef] been sabotaging Egypt’s infrastructure? Harassing Egyptian women on the streets, or unemploying the Egyptian people? What did he do?” Stewart asks mockingly.
Stewart then proceeded to show clips of Mursi insulting Jews and Zionism, with one clip showing Mursi labeling them the “descendants of apes and pigs.”