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Egyptian prosecutors investigate popular TV comedian

- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 1, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian prosecutors launched an investigation on Tuesday against a popular television satirist for allegedly insulting the president in the latest case raised by Islamist lawyers against outspoken media personalities.

Lawyer Ramadan Abdel-Hamid al-Oqsori charged that TV host Bassem Youssef insulted President Mohammed Morsi by putting the Islamist leader's image on a pillow and parodying his speeches.

The case against Mr. Youssef comes as opposition media and independent journalists are growing increasingly worried about press freedoms under a new constitution widely supported by Mr. Morsi and his Islamist allies.

Other cases have been brought against media personalities who have criticized the president since Mr. Morsi's victory in the country's first free presidential election last summer. Some of the cases have ended with charges being dropped. Mr. Morsi's office maintains that the president has nothing to do with legal procedures against media critics.

A local committee of journalists and editors has called for stronger guarantees of press freedoms and a rejection of the current constitution, fearing it allows for jailing journalists under broadly-worded articles regarding media offenses.

Authorities ordered the closure of TV station Al-Fareen last summer after bringing its owner, Tawfiq Okasha, to trial for scathing attacks against Mr. Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood group. Mr. Okasha emerged as one of the most popular TV personalities of post-Hosni Mubarak Egypt by railing against the uprising that toppled Mubarak's 29-year rule in February 2011.

Another prominent case was directed at the editor of a prominent opposition newspaper, al-Dustour, who has since stepped down. He went on trial briefly for "spreading lies" and fabricating news.

Mr. Youssef, a doctor, catapulted to fame when his video blogs mocking politics received hundreds of thousands of hits shortly after the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime leader Mubarak.

Mr. Youssef's program is modeled after Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show," on which he has appeared as a guest.

Unlike other local TV presenters, Mr. Youssef uses satire to mock fiery comments made by ultraconservative clerics and politicians, garnering him a legion of fans among the country's revolutionaries and liberals.

Among his most popular clips are the ones in which he pokes fun at the president's speeches and decisions.

While holding a red, furry pillow with Mr. Morsi's picture on it, Mr. Youssef satirizes Mr. Morsi's style of speech.

"The president understands us. He understands us better than we understand ourselves," Mr. Youssef says in a clip. "He tells us things we never knew," he adds, before going to wordy clips of Mr. Morsi going into detail about the day of the week and other basic facts.

"It's October 6! Tell us when it's Christmas!" Mr. Youssef shouts to the camera as the audience erupts in laughter and applause.

The opposition, which is Mr. Youssef's main fan base, failed to defeat the constitution, despite mass street protests against it. The charter passed with almost 64 percent of votes. Opponents say the low turnout in the referendum, less than 33 percent, and the lack of national consensus undermine its legitimacy.

In another clip, Mr. Youssef asks whether Egyptians created a revolution to remove a dictator and bring in another one. That came after Mr. Morsi issued power-grabbing decrees that placed him above judicial oversight. The decrees allowed him to shield the Islamist-dominated assembly that was drafting the constitution from the Supreme Constitutional Court, which was set to rule on its legitimacy.

Mr. Youssef, 38, is one of Egypt's most popular TV presenters, with 1.4 million fans on Facebook and nearly 850,000 followers on Twitter, just shy of the president's number of followers.

Also Tuesday, police said they had arrested a suspect in a shooting that seriously wounded a protester in Cairo's central Tahrir Square, where an open-ended sit-in protesting the Morsi regime is taking place.

According to witnesses, before dawn on Monday gunmen shot and wounded 19-year-old Muhanad Samir, who has said he was jailed and tortured under Egypt's former ruling military council after he witnessed the killing of another activist. Lawyers say the attacked appeared to target Mr. Samir, who is battling for his life with pellets embedded in his head.

Security officials dismiss allegations that Mr. Samir was the victim of a political assassination. On Tuesday, they said they had arrested the owner of a cafe in downtown Cairo who told police that he fired on the square after people manning makeshift checkpoints there searched his car and shot at him. The officials spoke anonymously in line with regulations.

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