Egyptian court drops lawsuit to ban comedy show

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Associated Press

Posted on April 6, 2013 at 10:04 AM

Updated Saturday, Apr 6 at 10:06 AM

CAIRO (AP) — A Cairo court turned down on Saturday a lawsuit filed by an Islamist lawyer demanding that a popular Egyptian satirist's TV show be banned for allegedly insulting the president and containing excessive sexual innuendo.

Judge Hassouna Tawfiq said that the lawsuit against Bassem Youssef's "ElBernameg," or "The Program," was dropped because the plaintiff did not have an interest in the case. Youssef still faces other investigations related to the show but the ruling may set a precedent.

Youssef — known as Egypt's Jon Stewart — frequently satirizes President Mohammed Morsi who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's best-organized political force. The lawyer who brought forth the case is a Brotherhood member.

Chief Brotherhood lawyer Abdel-Moneim Maqsoud told The Associated Press that plaintiff Mahmoud Abul-Enein filed the case on his own without involving the Islamist group.

Islamist lawyers have filed multiple legal complaints 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 in deeply polarized Egypt.

Youssef was interrogated this week in a separate case where he was also accused of insulting the country's leader and Islam. The questioning drew criticism from Washington and rights advocates.

The president's office said earlier this week that it was not involved in the investigation, and that it recognizes the "importance of freedom of expression."

In his written opinion, the judge explained that "it is clear from the statement released by the president's office ... that the presidency is not going to file a complaint against media personality Bassem Youssef or anyone else out of respect for freedom of expression."

"It is the right of citizens to express themselves freely far from restrictions and the presidency urges respect for the law," the judge added.

Brotherhood lawyer Abul-Enein filed the suit demanding the suspension of the license of the private satellite TV channel, the Capital Broadcasting Center, which broadcasts the show. He claimed Youssef's program "corrupted morals" and violated "religious principles."

Undeterred by the charges against him, Youssef was back on the air Friday poking new fun at the international publicity he received after lampooning the Egyptian president.

"Not everything has to be about the president. This isn't fear. I am not pulling back," he said on the show.

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 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 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.

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