Published: Monday, April 8, 2013

Freedom Of Expression

Fear grows in Egypt under Islamist rule

Bassem Youssef

Bassem Youssef

The Arab Spring was supposed to bring freedom to Egypt. Instead, concern is growing inside and outside the country that an illiberal wind is blowing the transition from autocracy off course.
Arrest warrants issued by the prosecutor general against activists and a comedian accused of insulting President Mohamed Morsi have hardened opposition fears of a crackdown on dissent by the Muslim Brotherhood-led authorities.
The satirist, Bassem Youssef’s El-Bernameg, was freed on Saturday after a Cairo court rejected petition by an Islamist lawyer to ban his satirical show for insulting the Egyptian president.
The suit was filed by a Muslim Brotherhood lawyer who complained that the programme, which has been likened to The Daily Show hosted by Jon Stewart in the US, had excessive sexual innuendo and was critical of Morsi, who is also a member of the Brotherhood.
There have been multiple complaints filed in courts and to state prosecutors by Islamist lawyers against Youssef and other public figures for their political or religious opinions.
Opposition groups and activists say such lawsuits against public figures are part of a wider campaign to intimidate critics of the new government.
Two dozen cases of “insulting the president” were brought in Egypt in the first 200 days of Mursi’s rule – four times as many as during Mubarak’s 30 years in power, said Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer.
In parliament, Islamist lawmakers are debating draft laws seen by liberals as a threat to civil society and the right to demonstrate – vital elements of a modern democracy.
The United States, which gives Egypt about $1.5 billion in annual aid, directed its sharpest criticism so far at the Islamist-led authorities this week, citing a “disturbing trend of growing restrictions on freedom of expression”.
Secretary of State John Kerry said the Obama administration had “real concerns about the direction that Egypt appears to be moving in”, mentioning arrests, street violence and “a lack of inclusivity with respect to the opposition”.