Tuesday, April 2, 2013

It's No Joke To Criticize The President In Egypt

Satire & Free Speech

An article, by Sarah El Deeb, from Associated Press and published in ABC News says that Egypt's most-noted satirist, Bassem Youssef, was called in by Egyptian authorities for questioning for "corrupting morals and insulting the president"; after nearly five hours in custody, he was released on bail last Sunday. Youssef, the Jon Stewart of Egypt, could face charges of insulting the country's leader and Islam, which is part of a continuing campaign of President Mohamed Morsi and his Administration to control free speech and dissent.

El Deeb writes:
Youssef is the host of the weekly political satire show known for his skits lampooning Morsi and Egypt's newly empowered Islamist political class. But he also mocks the opposition and the media. The fast-paced show has attracted a wide viewership, while at the same time earning its fair share of detractors. Youssef has been a frequent target of lawsuits, most of them brought by Islamist lawyers who accused him of "corrupting morals" or violating "religious principles."
Youssef frequently imitates Morsi's speeches and gestures. He has fact-checked the president, and in one particularly popular episode earlier this year, he played video clips showing remarks by Morsi, made in 2010 before he became president, calling Zionists "pigs." The remarks caused a brief diplomatic tiff with the U.S. administration, and Morsi had to issue a statement to defuse the flap.
In his last episode this week, Youssef thanked Morsi for providing him with so much material.
Youssef has also made regular jokes about comments by Islamic clerics and presenters on Islamic TV stations, exposing contradictions between their comments and public speeches and what he considers the spirit of Islam. Prosecutor Mohammed el-Sayed Khalifa was quoted on the website of the state-owned Al-Ahram daily that he has 28 plaintiffs in the case against Youssef accusing him of insulting Islam, mocking prayers, and "belittling" Morsi in the eyes of the world and his own people.
This is of course a classic case of censorship by state, where the personal tastes of the leader decides what is acceptable for public discourse. Such says much about how things are in Egypt, far from the initial Western expectations that it would soon become a full-fledged democracy. Satire and humour, often biting and insulting to the receiver, is a necessary mode of expression and valid political criticism, and a sign of a healthy democracy.

Political leaders in the west might like to censor their satirists, but they know that there is a long tradition of its existence in western liberal democracy. Such traditions rarely, if at all, exist, in states that have had a long history of authoritarian rulers.


You can read the rest of the article at [ABC News]