Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on Wednesday reiterated his government’s commitment to freedom of expression, and insisted his office is not responsible for the investigation of satirist Bassem Youssef, the “Egyptian Jon Stewart,” which raised international protest, most notably from Jon Stewart.
“The presidency reiterates the importance of freedom of expression and fully respects press freedom,” Morsi’s office said in a statement cited by AFP.
It denied having filed any complaint against Youssef, whose popular show Albernameg often lampoons Egyptian politicians and other public figures, including clerics.
At this point, Youssef is out on bail and facing charges of insulting Morsi and Islam, as well as a new investigation for “threatening public security.”
“The presidency has not filed any complaint against stand-up comedian Bassem Youssef,” Morsi’s office said, explaining that “the current well-publicized claims were initiated by citizens rather than the presidency.”
Wherein lies the catch: under Egypt’s legal system, anyone can file their complaints with the public prosecutor, who then decides whether there is enough evidence or public concern to refer the case to trial. And if the same public prosecutor sees fit, suspects can be detained even during this initial stage of the investigation.
Hiding behind this very thin veil of “the public made me do it,” there has been a soaring number of legal complaints against Egyptian journalists since Morsi and the Muslim Brothers have won the election, making Morsi’s claims of commitment to freedom of expression all but a cynical joke.
Freedom of expression was one of the key demand of the millions of Egyptian demonstrators who toppled the Mubarak regime in 2011.
The United States government has expressed “real concerns” about the direction being taken by the Egyptian government regarding Youssef’s case.