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J’accuse

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Hesham Hellyer

Hesham Hellyer

Was the issuing of an arrest warrant for Bassem Youssef meant to be an April Fools’ joke? If so, the joke ended up not being on the political satirist, but on the Egyptian authorities.

Bassem Youssef’s case rests on three points: that he insulted the Egyptian president, insulted Islam, and spread false news that was aimed at disrupting public order. Well: I have a new case to raise against Bassem Youssef, which ought to cancel this other one out. In the meantime, however, I have some ideas about what direction to point that other case in.

Ladies and Gentlemen: J’accuse! Bassem Youssef stands before you, guilty of insulting the status quo. He stands before you as someone who publically and openly couldn’t support voting for the likes of Ahmad Shafiq in the presidential elections, because Bassem wanted the status quo to change and for the situation not to revert to the pre-25 Jan era. Ladies and Gentlemen, I have firm evidence to that effect, and I think you ought to convict him accordingly.

Ladies and Gentlemen: J’accuse! Bassem Youssef stands before you, guilty of believing in the revolution of the 25 January. His crime in this regard is his stubbornness; he refuses to accept that the revolution was an 18-day event that began on 25 January and ended on 11 February. Despite the hardships and the challenges that the revolution has faced thus far, he insists on upholding its values of freedom and dignity, which he saw first-hand and fought for in the Square of Liberation during those 18 days. Ladies and Gentlemen, I have firm evidence to that effect, and I think you ought to convict him accordingly.

Ladies and Gentlemen: J’accuse! Bassem Youssef stands before you as being honest, direct and far too generous with his satirical wit, which he utilises against every single political force in the Arab Republic of Egypt. He refuses to aim it simply at the Muslim Brotherhood, or the Salafis, or the army. Nay, he insists on being fair, beyond belief, in aiming it at every member of the opposition, as can be seen on his programs for the last two years. Because, in his mind, this is the point of a free media; to call people in authority and responsibility to account. The more authority they hold, the more responsibility they have, and the more they should be called to account. Ladies and Gentlemen, I have firm evidence to that effect, and I think you ought to convict him accordingly.

Now that we have that out of the way: I have another case to raise. This one relates to the charges aimed at Bassem Youssef: spreading false information to disrupt civil order, insulting Islam, and insulting the presidency.

I call for a case that investigates those who have spread false information to disrupt civil order in this country. This case should ignore those senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood who claimed that more than 60% of the protestors outside the presidential palace during the constitutional strife were Christian, because only a fool could see the direct sectarian tone of such a claim. This case should ignore those senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood that send round press releases to members of the international diplomatic corps in Cairo, insisting without evidence that it was members of the opposition umbrella group (the National Salvation Front) that engaged in clashes in Moqattam. Obviously Bassem Youssef’s show, which only presents facts, albeit in a less than reverent manner, is far more disruptive to public order.

I call for a case that investigates those who have insulted Islam. This case ought to ignore the many radical preachers that use and abuse the name of this great world religion, to promote a narrow ‘identity’ which bears little relation to the ‘religion of mercy’. It ought to ignore those that consider many (most) of those who call themselves Muslims to be disbelievers, on the basis that they do not believe in that narrow, misguided interpretation. None of this is insulting to Islam at all, of course. Obviously Bassem Youssef’s show, which has never insulted religion, but rejects the claim that such radical preachers are, in fact, speaking on behalf of Islam, is far more insulting to this religion.

I call for a case that investigates those who have insulted the presidency. That case should turn a blind eye to those who think that the name and honour of the presidency is not besmirched by actions that stain the name and honour of Egypt. That case should not consider that those who have supported laws and constitutional declarations that make a farce of any commitment to the 25 January revolution, are insults to Egypt. They should, instead, consider that Bassem Youssef’s props, like an oversized hat and a pillow, are far more damaging to the presidency.

Finally, I call for a case against every single person that has supported Bassem Youssef’s right to be offensive. Surely, it is far more in keeping with the values of this great nation to only defend freedom of expression when it is in your favour, rather than on the basis of principle. Surely, it is that kind of flawed interpretation of the principle of freedom of interpretation that the 25 January revolution sought to achieve.

Good April Fools’ joke, guys. But really, the joke is on you. EGP 15,000 for bail? You should have charged Bassem Youssef a lot more. Do not be so cheap next time; he made at least 100 times that amount from the free publicity this case provided him and his show. Thanks again.

About the author

Dr H.A. Hellyer

Dr H.A. Hellyer

Dr H A Hellyer, a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution, is a Cairo-based specialist on Arab affairs, and relations between the Muslim world and the west. Fellow at ISPU, he was previously senior practice consultant at Gallup, and senior research fellow at Warwick University. Find him online @hahellyer and www.hahellyer.com .


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