Egypt’s top satirist undeterred after questioning

CAIRO (AP) — Undeterred at being interrogated by prosecutors, a popular Egyptian TV satirist was back on the air Friday poking new fun at the international publicity he received after lampooning the Egyptian president.

Bassem Youssef — known as Egypt’s Jon Stewart — was interrogated this week for allegedly insulting Islam and the country’s leader, questioning that drew criticism from Washington and rights advocates.

In his weekly Friday TV show, Youssef says he “overdid it.” He said all the segments on his show called “ElBernameg,” or “The Program,” wouldn’t focus on the country’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

“Not everything has to be about the president. This isn’t fear. I am not pulling back,” he said.

Youssef then said sarcastically that after his visit to the attorney general, he had decided not to talk on the show about Morsi — just the attorney general. The television audience, which included one of Egypt’s most prominent opposition figures, Hamdeen Sabahi, erupted in applause and laughter.

Then Youssef spent a good part of his show ridiculing both the attorney general and the president.

Responding to a member of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood party who said in a news clip that Youssef only focuses on the Islamist group and the president, he joked: “They are not two things. They are one.”

It was a way of mocking the president’s insistence that his policy decisions are made independent of the Brotherhood from which he hails.

On Friday, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom expressed concern about the Egyptian government’s application of what it called “blasphemy-like charges,” saying they were being used to stifle dissent and limit the freedoms of religion and expression.

The USCIRF noted that the questioning of Youssef and Egyptian comedian Ali Qandil over charges of insulting Islam were “just two of the most recent examples of a disturbing trend that affects all Egyptians.”

The group said that such charges were not new under Morsi, who was elected last June after the 2011 overthrow of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak, but were becoming more frequent.

While Youssef’s fast-paced show has attracted a wide viewership, it also has earned a fair share of detractors. Youssef has been a frequent target of lawsuits, most of them brought by Islamist lawyers who have accused him of “corrupting morals” or violating “religious principles.”

Recent legal moves against protesters, activists and critics come as unrest in Egypt continues amid deep political polarization.

The opposition charges that Morsi, in office for nine months, has failed to tackle any of the nation’s most pressing problems. They say the Brotherhood is trying to monopolize power, breaking its promise to include other factions in key decisions.

Morsi blames the country’s woes on corruption under Mubarak as well as ongoing protests. He says the opposition has no grassroots support and, along with former regime supporters, is stoking unrest for political gain.

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