Egyptian court drops lawsuit to ban comedy show

CAIRO (AP) — A Cairo court on Saturday dismissed 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 the court dropped the complaint against Bassem Youssef’s “ElBernameg,” or “The Program,” 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.

The comedian has been in the international spotlight since Egyptian authorities brought him in for questioning this week in a separate case over the same accusations, a move that prompted criticism from as far away as Washington. On his Jon Stewart-inspired show, Youssef frequently satirizes everything from President Mohammed Morsi’s policies to his mannerisms, as well as hardline Islamic clerics, while highlighting contradictions in their comments.

His criticism of Morsi and the president’s backers in the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most organized political force, has angered some within the Islamist fundamentalist group.

Plaintiff Mahmoud Abul-Enein, a Brotherhood lawyer, filed the suit demanding the suspension of the license of the private satellite TV channel, the Capital Broadcasting Center, which airs Youssef’s show. He claimed the comedian’s program “corrupted morals” and violated “religious principles.”

A chief Brotherhood lawyer said that Abul-Enein’s lawsuit was filed independent of the group.

The president’s office said earlier this week that it was not involved in the legal action against Youssef, 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.

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.

The country is reeling from seemingly endless waves of protests and political turmoil pitting a largely secular and liberal opposition against Morsi, his Brotherhood backers and fellow Islamists.

Thousands of activists took to the streets Saturday to mark the fifth anniversary of the founding of a leading opposition group, the April 6 Youth Movement, and to push a long list of demands, including the formation of a more inclusive government amid a worsening economy.

A recent diesel crisis has crippled life for millions in Egypt who rely on subsidized fuel, while the value of the country’s currency has slid sharply and the central bank’s foreign reserves are shrinking.

April 6, which played a key role in the revolt that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak in 2011, initially backed Morsi in the presidential run-offs in June against a former regime-era official. But the group has grown disillusioned with the president, and accuses him of trying to monopolize power.

It is demanding changes to parts of the new constitution, which was passed in a contentious referendum last year. Some in the group are angry that Morsi’s government is engaged in reconciliation talks with former regime officials, and demand sweeping reforms in the country’s police and judiciary.

Among the most contentious issues is that Morsi appointed his own attorney general, a move the opposition says blurs the separation of powers and throws into question the prosecutor’s ability to independently investigate the presidency.

Police fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters outside the chief prosecutor’s office Saturday in central Cairo who were pushing on the building’s doors demanding he resign.

April 6 founder Ahmed Maher has accused Morsi of acting like his autocratic predecessor and of not having an inclusive political process. The political party of the Brotherhood says that groups should challenge the president at the ballot box, not in street protests.

The head of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, Saad al-Katatny, acknowledged in a statement on his Facebook account that groups such as April 6 played a pivotal role in the country’s revolution.

“We battled against tyranny together for many years,” he wrote. “I hope we can repeat that experience and overcome our differences in order to build a modern, democratic state.”

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