CAIRO: “A report demanding stripping [my Egyptian] citizenship and expelling me from the country, and at the very same time bans me from traveling. How come?” award-winning satirist Bassem Youssef tweeted Monday.
Youssef is facing a lawsuit filed by lawyer Samir Sabry for “insulting” President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, in an alleged incident in New York City reported in a Saturday tweet by Khaled Abou Bakr, a presenter on the Orbit Showtime Network.
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) stated Tuesday that investigating Youssef “contradicts his speech” at the U.N Climate Summit when he said “his new Egypt would guarantee freedom of speech.”
Youssef told CPJ that “he has become the victim of a media witch hunt in the past two days,” according to the statement.
A New York scandal and a Cairo fight
Abou Bakr and editor-in-chief of Al-Shorouk newspaper Emad el-Din Hussein were among the press pool accompanying President Sisi’s recent visit to the United Nations in New York City. On Saturday, the pool saw Youssef at the airport; Abou Bakr claimed Youssef insulted and mocked Sisi using “hurtful and obscene words” in that encounter.
Journalist Dandarawy Elhawary wrote on Youm7 Sunday that Youssef accused media personalities, including those he was talking to, of “pandering” to Sisi in the media.
“I told him that all what he says is wrong and that [I] cannot be remain silent about those words, and stopped him from speaking further and he left,” Abou Bakr said in his tweet.
“It is not wrong to criticize anyone, but it is rude to utter obscene and ugly words in front of women and children,” he added.
Yasser Abdel Maqsoud, presented at Mehwar as an eyewitness of the incident at New York Airport, told the channel that Youssef was “yelling out curses” that he (Abdel Maqsoud) could not repeat on TV.
ONA news agency reported that Youssef wrote on his Facebook account, the access to which is restricted to friends he adds, that Abou Bakr’s tweets are “lies,” and said he did not curse Sisi, but rather accused him and some professionals of “hypocrisy.”
Youssef wrote that he was surprised, once he landed in Cairo, to realize that Abou Bakr had already tweeted the incident, and added that he told him “from now on, when you write reports, report correctly,” ONA reported.
Youssef facing another lawsuit
Sabry, the lawyer who filed a lawsuit against Youssef, has previously filed lawsuits that resulted in the banning of the Muslim Brotherhood, April 6 Movement and Hamas by the Egyptian government.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) described the lawsuit as another political hesba case, which are lawsuits filed by people on political or religious grounds to defame their, or the regime’s opponents, or to gain money or fame.
ANHRI also called Abou Bakr an “obscure” media personality in its Monday statement.
“I did not file the report for the sake of lawyer Khaled Abou Bakr or for media personalities, but against Bassem Youssef because he tries to spoil Egyptians’ happiness with Sisi’s visit to the U.N.,” Sabry told Mehwar channel Sunday.
“He has to realize that there is a difference between freedom of expression and obscenity,” Sabry said.
“Such cases are filed by fame seekers in an attempt to flatter the regime. They are unacceptable and they infringe the rule of law. It is such deterioration when a cheap calumny results in a lawsuit, and it indicates once more the dramatic setback of freedoms in Egypt,” ANHRI said.
ANHRI also urged the judicial system to prevent attempts to “exploit the judiciary” in political disputes and retaliations against dissidents.
Former interim President Adly Mansour abolished the jail penalty of “insulting the president” and reduced it to a maximum fine of 30,000 EGP ($4,190) in August 2013. A large number of lawsuits were of that nature had been filed while former President Mohamed Morsi was in power.
Youssef himself was charged with insulting Morsi and Islam in 2013, and although he was investigated, his show was not banned or taken down.
“Since grabbing legislative control in June, and in the absence of Parliament, the former army chief has appointed allies as judicial officials. But when it comes to releasing journalists and allowing critics such as Youssef to express their views, al-Sisi claims suddenly that his hands are tied,” CPJ said in its staement.
New York-based CPJ called on Egypt to, above releaseing all journalists, amend the penal code to ensure members of the press are not pursued to doing their job.
Youssef’s satire show, El Bernameg, began on YouTube after the January 25 Revolution in 2011, then broadcast 104 episodes on ON TV channel in 2011 and 2012.
CBC channel hosted the show from November 2012 until June 2013, right before the June 30 protests that led to the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. The channel aired only the first episode of the third season of the show in October 2013, then announced it would not air the show because of “contract violations.”
MBC channel began broadcasting the show in February 2014, then suspended it during the 2014 presidential elections in May, and in June Youssef announced that it is “too dangerous” for him to continue the show due to the “political climate.”