Egyptian Islamists fear comedian’s jokes
Egyptian Islamists are so fearful of jokes undermining their authority that they have taken action against a popular comedian.
Their action to prosecute funnyman Bassem Youssef, who modeled his program after Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, shows yet again how satire and ridicule can be potent weapons against Islamist intolerance.
Youssef (not to be confused with a litigious FBI agent of the same name) rose to prominence in Egypt during the February 2011 revolution that toppled US-backed strongman Hosni Mubarak. Now that Youssef is using his wit against Mubarak’s successor, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi, the comedian has become a target.
Youssef “made fun of President Mohammed Morsi on television,” which Islamists allied with Morsi say “undermines” the Egyptian president and is therefore a crime, the Telegraph of London reports.
Among Youssef’s offenses: Poking fun at Morsi’s repeated use of the word “love” in political speeches. Youssef played love songs and displayed a red pillow with the Egyptian president’s face on it.
“Bassem Youssef’s case will increase worries about freedom of speech in the post-Hosni Mubarak era, especially when the country’s new constitution includes provisions criticized by rights activists for, among other things, forbidding insults,” according to the Telegraph.
Some Salafists have fired back at Youssef with acidic humor of their own. Abu Islam Ahmed Abdallah, an Islamist whose show “Hezbollah” is aired on the Ummah Channel (these are real names, not jokes), appeared to express physical attraction to the comedian, calling Youssef more beautiful than famous Egyptian actresses and saying that he should cover his face.
Al-Ahram cites Abu Islam as saying that Islamic sheikhs who have become involved in politics should not be criticized, “because God gave them the right to enlighten people on what is right and what is wrong and that they can judge who will go to heaven and who will go to hell.”
Abu Islam publicly burned the Christian Bible during the Muslim Brotherhood-backed violent protests of September 11, 2012.
The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists have been demanding restrictions on freedom of expression and begun high-profile intimidation campaigns against Egyptian artists.