Muslim Brotherhood Condemns State Dept. for Defending Egyptian Satirist Accused of Blasphemy

By Elizabeth Harrington | April 2, 2013 | 5:16pm EDT

Mohammed Morsi, president of Egypt. (AP)

( – The Muslim Brotherhood denounced the U.S. State Department for expressing concern over legal action taken against an Egyptian satirist accused of insulting Islam and President Mohamed Morsi, stating that denigration of the Muslim religion is a “serious breach of law.”

“The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has strongly criticized remarks made by U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on legal complaints accusing Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef of contempt of religions,” said the Muslim Brotherhood in a statement on its official English website “Ikhwan Web.”

“The US State Department spokeswoman's comments suggest that this is simply a matter of insulting a president, while the main issue in the legal complaints is contempt of the religion of Islam and denigrating religious rites,” they said.  “This contempt, if true, represents a serious breach of the law and a violation of customs and social and cultural constants in Egyptian society, which can have serious repercussions in this sensitive phase of Egypt’s democratic transformation, fueling feelings of rage in Egyptians, who reject the cynicism and sarcasm insulting their religious rites.”

Known as Egypt’s Jon Stewart, Bassem Youssef was accused of insulting Islam and Morsi on his satirical television show.  Youssef turned himself in after a warrant was issued for his arrest and endured five hours of interrogation before being released on bail of 15,000 Egyptian pounds, or $2,200, on Sunday.

On Monday, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Youssef’s arrest is part of a “disturbing trend” of the cracking down on freedom of expression in Egypt.

Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef, who was arrested and charged with insulting Islam and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. (AP)

“We are concerned that the public prosecutor appears to have questioned and then released on bail Bassam Youssef on charges of insulting Islam and President Morsy,” Nuland said. “This coupled with recent arrest warrants issued for other political activists is evidence of a disturbing trend of growing restrictions on the freedom of expression.”

“As I said last Thursday, we’re also concerned that the Government of Egypt seems to be investigating these cases while it has been slow or inadequate in investigating attacks on demonstrators outside of the presidential palace in December 2012, other cases of extreme police brutality, and illegally blocked entry of journalists to media cities,” she said.  “So there does not seem to be an evenhanded application of justice here.”

Nuland said it is a freedom of expression issue, and said Secretary of State John Kerry will continue to raise U.S. concerns over human rights and freedom of the press with Egypt’s Morsi.

The Muslim Brotherhood called Nuland’s comments “injudicious,” showing “extreme and imprudent boldness and urgency.”

“Her comments constitute a hasty, blatant interference in Egypt’s internal affairs regarding a legal complaint that is still under investigation, being dealt with in the necessary legal process and by official legal means,” they said.  “These remarks raise major question-marks about the U.S. administration’s position and discourse.”

“The FJP strongly and totally condemns these statements as made by the US State Department’s spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, because they will have only one interpretation in the Egyptian street: the US welcomes and defends contempt of religion by the media,” the statement continued.

“At the same time, the FJP reiterates and reaffirms its deep respect for freedom of opinion and freedom to criticize executive leaders, including the head of state, within the bounds of the law and the Constitution, with respect for religious and cultural constants of this free revolutionary and independent people,” the Brotherhood added.

The Muslim Brotherhood also took to its official English twitter account to denounce the State Department.  “We strongly condemn@StateDept statements, which means USG [the U.S. Government]  is welcoming [and] condoning defamation of religion by some in Egyptian media,” the Ikhwanweb tweeted.

On his show, which is broadcast on a private Egyptian television station, Youssef has depicted Morsi as a pharaoh, calling him "Super Morsi" after he granted himself sweeping executive powers last fall.  He also put Morsi’s image on a pillow and parodying his speeches angered one Islamist lawyer, whose formal complaint resulted in the investigation.

Defamation of the Muslim religion is illegal under Islamic law.  Last year, an Egyptian court issued death sentences in absentia for Terry Jones, a Florida pastor known for burning the Koran, and seven Coptic Christians for their connection to an obscure YouTube video “The Innocence of Muslims.”

The video, which portrayed the Prophet Muhammad as a womanizer and a fraud, was also blamed for the attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11, 2012 by the U.S. government for weeks following the attack, despite no evidence of a spontaneous protest or that the video played any role whatsoever in the Benghazi attack.

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