CAIRO - Egyptian prosecutors questioned Egypt's most prominent
television satirist on Sunday over allegations he insulted the president
and Islam, a case that has increased opposition fears of a crackdown on
Bassem Youssef rose to fame after the uprising that
swept Hosni Mubarak from power in 2011, with a satirical online show.
His program, that has been compared to the "Daily Show" of US satirist
Jon Stewart, is now broadcast on Egyptian TV.
The comedian is
accused, among other things, of undermining the standing of Islamist
President Mohamed Morsi. The prosecutor general issued an arrest warrant
for him on Saturday after at least four legal complaints filed by Morsi
An official in the prosecutor general's office
confirmed that questioning had begun. Youssef voluntarily showed up at
the prosecutor general's office on Sunday, so as to avoid arrest.
was wearing an oversized version of a graduation hat modeled on one
donned by the president when he was awarded an honorary degree in
Pakistan earlier in March.
Youssef has worn the hat on his
widely-watched show, one of many satirical jabs at the president. Last
year, he poked fun of Morsi's repeated use of the word "love" by singing
a love song to a red pillow with the president's face printed on it.
The questioning of the comedian has raised fears over freedom of expression in the post-Mubarak Egypt.
is an escalation in an attempt to restrict space for critical
expression," said Heba Morayef, Egypt director at Human Rights Watch.
liberal politician Mohamed ElBaradei said it was the kind actions only
seen in "fascist regimes". "It is the continuation of the failed and
ugly moves to thwart the revolution," he said.
questioning came after the prosecutor general issued five arrest
warrants for prominent political activists accused of inciting violence
against the Muslim Brotherhood, the group that propelled Morsi to power
in last year's election.
The prosecutor's office has also
summoned several other prominent media figures for questioning over
accusations they insulted the president.
Opposition figures say
the prosecutor, Talaat Ibrahim, is biased towards Morsi, who appointed
him last November, and they want him removed from office.
ruled last week that Ibrahim's appointment was illegal and that he must
step down. Ibrahim, who denies any bias, plans to appeal the ruling.