Political satirist Bassem Youssef said Egypt’s liberals were as intolerant as their Islamist opponents, and as unwilling to accept criticism of themselves or the country’s interim-authorities, in his weekly column in privately-owned daily Al-Shorouk on Tuesday.
“Those who defend liberalism and secularism say they are opposed to religious fanaticism and endorse freedom of opinion. However, when it suits them, they use Quranic verses and Hadiths [sayings of Prophet Mohamed] to justify attacks against their enemies, using the same accusations as religious movements,” Youssef said.
Youssef’s comments came as Cairo’s Appeal Prosecution began looking into a complaint filed by the Muslim Youth Association’s legal adviser, charging Youssef with libel, slander, insulting Egypt and its people, and committing obscene acts in public.
After an almost three-month hiatus, Youssef returned to television on Friday, poking fun at ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, as usual.
This time, however, in the premier episode of his weekly ‘Al-Bernameg’ (The Show)’s third season, he also targeted zealous followers of Army Chief General Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.
The move was viewed by many as unacceptable amid increasing popular support for El-Sisi after the ouster of Mohamed Morsi by the military in June, following mass popular protests against his rule.
By Saturday, at least four complaints had been filed with the country’s top prosecutor, accusing Youssef of defaming the military in his show. One of the complaints accused Youssef of using phrases to “undermine the honour and dignity of Egypt and its people,” allegedly sowing sedition and spreading lies.
Since Morsi’s overthrow, Egypt’s political life has been increasingly polarised between supporters of the deposed Islamist president and followers of the liberal-dominated interim authorities.
In his article, titled ‘Egypt drifting towards the right,’ Youssef drew comparisons between the American right and far-right and the Egyptian liberal current. “After the fall of the Brotherhood, we expected to enjoy all the benefits of the liberal heaven, both in the media and in power.”
“Instead, liberals who are proud of their proficiency in foreign languages, and of travelling abroad and following the latest Western fashions, believe conspiracy theories and spread them,” he wrote.
“They share [information] from far-right websites and believe Fox news, just because it attacks the Muslim Brotherhood, without realising that these conservatives despise them equally because they are Arabs,” he added.
The renowned satirist underlined the difficult position that those who oppose the Islamist and liberal camps find themselves in, as they are critiqued by both.
“Maybe there is a left and maybe there are liberals in Egypt, and maybe there are those who struggle for workers’ rights and for the oppressed and who fight for development programmes and social solidarity; they are cursed by both camps,” Youssef added. “If they are not considered infidels, they are traitors or agents who follow a Western-Zionist agenda.”
Youssef also expressed incomprehension regarding the lack of tolerance that he says has come to characterise Egypt’s liberals. “I can understand the intolerance of the religious movement and its penchant for the far-right. At the end of the day, that is their ideological stance, and… at least they are consistent with their beliefs,” he said.
“But I can’t understand a current that claims to defend liberalism and freedom but which, in the end, is less tolerant than the religious one. We [can] replace the beard with heavy make-up, the miswak [a traditional teeth-cleaning twig] with a glass of martini… but religious extremism and the political right are one and the same.”