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News Analysis

Egyptian Gov't Arrests the "Egyptian Jon Stewart"

Tue, April 2, 2013

<p>Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood President shown on a poster by supporting gunmen (Photo: © Reuters)</p>

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood President shown on a poster by supporting gunmen (Photo: © Reuters)

Ryan Mauro

The Muslim Brotherhood-led Egyptian government has arrested six of its most prominent opponents, including popular comedian Bassem Youssef that is known as the Egyptian counterpart of Jon Stewart. The political persecution follows the formation of Islamist militias, new actions to control the media and President Morsi’s threat to prosecute opposition leaders.

Youssef’s popularity in Egypt is immense, making him one of the most influential media figures in the country. His mockery of political figures, especially President Morsi and Islamists, has struck a chord. About 250,000 people try to get tickets every single week to the filming of his show.

The Egyptian government arrested him for allegedly “insulting” the President and Islam, slander and incitement of the public. This was in response to a lawsuit against Youssef by 12 Islamists. He was released on bail after paying about $2,000 and was interrogated for five hours. When he was at the Prosecutor’s Office, he defiantly wore a hat he had previously used to make fun of President Morsi.

The arrest of Youssef shows the dictatorial techniques Islamists use to oppress while building a façade of democracy. The arrest was the result of an Islamist-initiated lawsuit, setting a dangerous precedent. The vague terminology of his “offenses” puts every vocal critic of the Islamists at risk.

The five political activists that were arrested are accused of encouraging violence against and murder of Muslim Brotherhood members and property. However, the New York Times reviewed the social media accounts of the activists where the incitement allegedly occurred and found nothing.

One of Morsi’s advisers defended the arrests by saying there would be a fair trial and “the law must have a just sword capable of protecting rights, freedoms and social peace.” Tellingly, the only time the Islamists favor “social peace” is when they are the ones being destabilized.

The Egyptian government may be testing the waters for arresting more high-profile enemies. President Morsi recently said, “If investigations prove that certain political figures are implicated [in violence], the necessary measures will be taken against them, whatever their status.”

In December, the Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation into three of Morsi’s former rivals for the presidency in response to a lawyer’s complaint. Mohammed El-Baradei, Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabahi could end up being prosecuted for allegedly trying to topple the president. The leader of the secular Wafd Party was also named. The complaint states that they are part of a “Zionist plot,” making them traitors.

It should be remembered that President Morsi was elected over the secularist candidate with only 52% of the vote. Since his rival was a former Prime Minister under the Mubarak regime, clearly some of Morsi’s support came from voters whose primary concern was stopping the old regime from returning to power. Since then, the Brotherhood’s popularity has sharply declined, as evidenced in the anti-Islamist protests that are now commonplace in Egypt.

This means that the Brotherhood is in trouble. Parliamentary elections are slated to be held in October.

If it were to hold truly free and fair elections, it could end up losing the parliament if the secularist opposition unites. At the very least, its opponents would make huge gains.

The Brotherhood has sought to control Egypt since 1928, and it’s not ready to give up that easily.

Egypt's "Jon Stewart" on CNN