Satirist Bassem Youssef has sometimes been called Egypt’s Jon Stewart — a refreshing uninhibited commentators in the increasingly restricted Egyptian public discourse. That ended last week as Egypt’s Islamic government added him to the spate of blasphemy arrests in defense of Islam.
Youssef is charged with satire that insulted President Mohamed Morsi and Islam. He posted bond on Sunday after being interrogated for hours.
Youssef is a heart surgeon who volunteered in a Tahrir Square field hospital during the uprising against President Hosni Mubarak. He has guts as well as a sense of humor. While waiting to be interrogated, he continued to post sarcastic tweets in defiance of his captors. Here is a clip with Jon Stewart.
Egypt’s continued crackdown of anti-religious speech is part of its long-standing blasphemy abuses. For many years, I have been writing about the threat of an international blasphemy standard and the continuing rollback on free speech in the West. For recent columns, click here and here and here.
Much of this writing has focused on the effort of the Obama Administration to reach an accommodation with allies like Egypt to develop a standard for criminalizing anti-religious speech. We have been following the rise of anti-blasphemy laws around the world, including the increase in prosecutions in the West and the support of the Obama Administration for the prosecution of some anti-religious speech under the controversial Brandenburg standard.
The crackdowns in Saudi Arabia and Egypt show again how unwise this effort by the Obama Administration was from the start. The Administration has given credibility to these efforts to curb anti-religious speech. Whatever desire it had to “moderate” such actions by cooperating on an international standard has proven, as many of us predicted, an utter failure. There can be no compromise between free speech and blasphemy. These nations stand against the most basic right of all men and women to speak freely and worship (or not worship) as their values dictate.