US angers Egypt over Jon Stewart reaction to Youssef arrest

Bassem Youssef has become a popular figure in the Arab world, but now the controversy he arouses is increasing. Photo: Jon Stewart - Yousseff

CHARLOTTEApril 3, 2013 – The controversy in Egypt over the arrest and release of satirical commentator Bassem Youssef is growing.

After a lengthy routine by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show about charges leveled by President Mohamed Morsi against Youssef, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo posted the episode the following day. The Egyptian Presidency responded quickly by accusing the embassy of engaging in “negative political propaganda.”

SEE RELATED: Bassem Youssef: The Egyptian Jon Stewart is raising his voice

In a reply on the official Egyptian Twitter account, Morsi’s administration stated, “It’s inappropriate for a diplomatic mission to engage in such negative political propaganda.”

Victoria Nuland, the spokeswoman for the US State Department countered the Egyptian reprimand saying that detaining Youssef, and later releasing him, is evidence of mounting restrictions on freedom of expression that is becoming a “disturbing trend” in Egypt.

Nuland continued by adding, “This is something that came up when Secretary (John) Kerry was in Egypt. He raised human rights concerns, including freedom of the press, with President Morsi, and we will continue to raise these concerns.”

During his monologue, Stewart claimed that celebrities such as himself and Youssef have little power to sway public opinion and they are merely commenting upon political and socials events at any given time.

SEE RELATED: Egypt arrests satirist Bassam Youssef in press crackdown

“Making fun of the president’s hats and less than fluent English? That was my entire career for eight years,” Stewart said with a split screen picture of former President George W. Bush and himself wearing cowboy hats in the background. 

Stewart became more vocal when he reminded Morsi that, “Without Bassem and all those journalists, and bloggers, and brave protesters who took to Tahrir Square to voice dissent, you, President Morsi, would not be in a position to repress them. For someone who spent time in jail yourself under Mubarak, you seem awfully eager to send other people there for the same non-crimes, and just like you, they will only emerge from prison stronger and more determined.”

Youssef is not the only journalist under investigation in Egypt. A number of his media colleagues face similar charges of insulting the president and his commitment to freedom of expression.

Though Youssef was eventually released, he was required to pay a fine of approximately $2,200 pending investigation of the complaints against him.

There are deeper implications for the growing controversy however, and they only serve to magnify the complexity of negotiating in the Middle East.

Morsi’s administration called the U.S. criticism a “blatant intervention” in Egypt’s internal affairs. That may or may not be true, but Egypt doesn’t seem to complain when the United States pumps billions of dollars of aid and weapons into their regime.

Since taking control, the response by Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood has been more indicative of an Islamic philosophy rather than a democracy, and restricting freedom of expression is a prime example.

For Obama’s role, the Egyptians are keenly aware that the American president has his own freedom of expression issues resulting primarily from his stance with Hillary Clinton regarding the terrorist attack in Benghazi in September of last year. It provides Egypt with enough leverage for them to ignore American criticism.

Finally, the Egyptians claim the issue has more to do with Youssef insulting Islam, and some of its religious practices, more than a focus on poking fun at President Morsi.

In a statement from the Egyptian government, if such ridicule is found to be true “this contempt constitutes a grave breach of the law, customs, social and cultural constants in the Egyptian society.”

Youssef is said to be a devout Muslim who would not demean his faith in any way. He has, however, taken the hypocrisy of Muslim clerics to task.

In such an environment, it would not be difficult to stack the deck against Bassem Youssef to make the outcome favor Mohamed Morsi in whatever way he chooses.

Welcome to the maddening complexities and vagaries of dealing with Islamic reasoning and power.

Contact Bob at  <ahref=””>Google+</a>

Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in CharlotteNCTaylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club, which creates, and escorts customized tours to SwitzerlandFrance and Italy for groups of 12 or more.

Inquiries for groups can be made at Taylored Media has produced marketing videos for British Rail, Rail Europe, Switzerland Tourism, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council, the Finnish Tourist Board, the Swiss Travel System and Japan Railways Group among others.

As author of The Century Club book, Peabod is now attempting to travel to 100 countries or more during his lifetime. To date he has visited 71 countries. Suggest someplace new for Bob to visit; if you want to know where he has been, check his list on Facebook. Bob plans to write a sequel to his book when he reaches his goal of 100 countries. He also played professional baseball for four years and was a sportscaster for 14 years at WBTV, the CBS affiliate in Charlotte.


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Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club ( and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.


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