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Prosecutors question 'Egypt's Jon Stewart'

From Ian Lee and Amir Ahmed, CNN
updated 6:01 AM EDT, Mon April 1, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Complaints have been filed alleging that Bassem Youssef insulted Islam, Egypt's president
  • The popular Egyptian television host is released on bond after questioning by prosecutors
  • Youssef is a satirist whom some compare to Jon Stewart for his irreverent take on politics
  • While he was questioned, he mocked officials in a string of Twitter posts

Cairo (CNN) -- It was a welcome more suited for a rock star than a wanted man.

A mob of cheering fans surrounded Egypt's high court on Sunday, chanting Bassem Youssef's name.

Two years ago, Youssef was a heart surgeon producing satirical YouTube videos from inside his Cairo apartment.

Now, he's one of Egypt's best-known television personalities, with a nationally broadcast program that has drawn comparisons to Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" for its irreverent take on Egyptian politics.

But the popularity he won by pushing the boundaries of free speech comes with a price.

2012: Man brings satire to Egypt TV

Egypt's public prosecutor summoned Youssef for questioning on Sunday, accusing him of insulting President Mohamed Morsy and Islam.

He was released on $2,200 bail in response to three lawsuits filed against him, the prosecutor general's office told CNN.

Youssef's satirical commentary didn't stop during his questioning on Sunday.

The blue-eyed comedian offered a steady stream of Twitter posts about the experience.

He mocked officers recording his physical description for asking him his eye color as he stood in front of them.

He poked fun at the prosecutor's office, tweeting that officials could not find a laptop to see episodes from his show.

"A policeman and a lawyer from the General Prosecutors Office want to take their pictures with (me). Could this be the reason I was summoned?" he wrote.

The prosecutor has said Youssef's weekly show is insulting not just to the president but to Islam itself.

In recent days, some lawyers filed complaints on behalf of Egyptians making those allegations.

But the prosecutor has provided no details, and Youssef is a practicing Muslim.

It is a crime in Egypt to insult any religion.

In December, Youssef said that he thought Morsy and other Egyptian politicians were accepting his show, "Al Bernameg" ("The Program").

"I think this is actually the best time to have a political satire program in Egypt," he told CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

"Basically we are the drama queen of the world, with everything happening. We're kind of the international political soap opera," he said. "So it's a great time and era to have a political satire to comment on everything that's happening."

But he noted that some Egyptians had accused him of being anti-Islam.

"I'm proud to be an Egyptian and a Muslim," he told Amanpour. "My mom is always concerned every time I go on TV. She's afraid that I'm going to be caught and put in prison. But you know, that's what moms do. But I satirize. The way it goes down with people, many are actually accepting it. And actually, it's empowering a lot of people that they think that this speaks on their behalf."

Recently some people critical of Morsy's government have been arrested or brought in for questioning, a tactic critics have said is reminiscent of the ousted Hosni Mubarak government. Some have accused the government of trying to stifle free speech.

"Pathetic efforts to smother dissent and intimidate media is a sign of a shaky regime and a bunker mentality," Mohamed ElBaradei, an Egyptian opposition leader and former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, wrote in a Twitter post Saturday.

In January, Morsy told CNN he was committed to allowing free speech in his country.

Social media helped propel Youssef to fame, and social media posts swelled in support of him Sunday.

But after he was released on bail, the TV host offered a more serious message to his 1.2 million Twitter followers: "Touched by people's support and media attention, however, there are many more activists being prosecuted that deserve to get that support."

CNN's Ian Lee reported from Cairo. CNN's Amir Ahmed reported from Atlanta. CNN's Salma Abdelaziz and Neda Farshbaf and journalist Adam Makary contributed to this report.

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