Jon Stewart devoted the first half of his late-night comedy show Monday to criticizing Egypt’s president Mohamed Morsi for prosecuting the satirist Bassem Youssef, otherwise known as Egypt’s Jon Stewart. The US Embassy in Cairo tweeted a link to The Daily Show segment the next day, prompting an angry tweet back from Morsi’s office.
The office of the Egyptian Presidency has since tweeted a link to a press release on the matter, posted on Facebook — Yes, this is how international relations are handled in the 21st century.
The office asserts that the complaint against Youssef was raised by Egyptian citizens, not the president:
“The Presidency reiterates the importance of freedom of expression and fully respects press freedom. All citizens are free to express themselves without the restrictions that prevailed in the era of the previous regime.”
Egyptian police investigated Youssef, the most popular comedian in the Middle East, over the weekend for allegedly insulting Egypt’s president and Islam. Youssef told CNN on Monday that he was made to watch videos of his jokes for hours while he was interrogated.
“This is a modern time Inquisition, where they hold people for their words and use holy reasons to put them in jail,” Youssef told CNN‘s Christiane Amanpour. “I’m not worried because I have not done anything to insult my religion, which I’m proud of. There are some people who want to make it [seem like] a fight or a struggle between seculars and Muslims. This is not true.”
Human rights groups as well as Morsi’s political opponents see his actions as an authoritarian power grab that threatens free speech. On Monday night’s episode of The Daily Show, Stewart asked Egypt’s president why he was afraid of a comedian:
“What are you worried about, Mr. President of Egypt? The power of satire to overthrow the status quo? I’ve been doing this crap fest for 15 years, granted I’m not as popular as Bassem, but we’ve had our nights. And just so you know, there’s been a grand total of zero toppled governments we’ve brought about during the time.”
Youssef’s show, The Program in English, is modeled after Stewart’s late-night comedy show. Stewart expressed admiration for Youssef’s work when the comedian appeared on The Daily Show over the summer. Youssef’s show first aired in March of 2011, the month after Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak fled Cairo after decades of authoritarian rule.
The US Embassy in Cairo has since temporarily shut down its Twitter account. Egypt’s response, however, remains highly visible:
— Egyptian Presidency (@EgyPresidency) April 2, 2013
All ten minutes of Stewart’s critique of Egypt’s president can be watched below: