Egypt’s ‘Jon Stewart’ fans flames in return to TV

Egypt’s top prosecutor received complaints Saturday against a popular television satirist less than 24 hours after he returned to air, highlighting the low tolerance this deeply divided country has for criticism of the military and its leaders.

Bassem Youssef, often compared to U.S. comedian Jon Stewart, mocked the new pro-military fervor gripping Egypt in his program that aired Friday night. He also took jabs at the country’s powerful military chief, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, lionized in the Egyptian media as a hero after leading a July 3 coup that ousted the country’s elected Islamist president following massive protests.

By Saturday, at least four complaints had been filed with the country’s top prosecutor, accusing Youssef of defaming the military in his show, a judicial official said. One of the complaints accused Youssef of using phrases that “undermine the honor and dignity of Egypt and its people” in a manner sowing sedition and spreads lies.

The official said no investigation into the complaints had started yet. Such complaints, common under Egyptian law, are often shelved until prosecutors decide to start an investigation.

During Friday’s show, Youssef imitated the general’s soft-spoken, affectionate way of addressing the public, turning it into a lover’s romantic groove. In one skit, a woman named “the Public” calls into a love advice show raving about the love of her life who saved her from an abusive husband.

“He’s an officer as big as the world,” she coos adoringly, making a pun on a slogan el-Sissi uses in nearly every speech — “Egypt will be big enough to face down the world.” Then she adds, “He does have a sovereign streak.”

One complainant, well-known politician Ahmed el-Fadaly, referred to the skit of the adoring woman, accusing Youssef of portraying Egypt as a “dallying woman who betrays her husband with military men.”

El-Fadaly, who heads an association of young Muslims, also accused the satirist of belittling the armed forces’ efforts dealing with terrorism, and of misrepresenting the popular protests against Morsi as a coup, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by The Associated Press.

Another complainant, a group called “The Campaign for el-Sissi for President,” alleged Youssef defamed the military and its leadership through sexual innuendos, according to the Youm7 news website.

Youssef used satire to criticize President Mohammed Morsi during his one year in office. Morsi supporters also sued Youssef for insulting the presidency and Islam, leading to his brief detention.

Before returning to air after four months of absence, Youssef predicted that he will continue to be pursued legally by his new critics “who allegedly love freedom dearly — when it works in their favor,” he wrote in an article.

His late-night Friday show caused a stir in a sharply divided country. Since Morsi’s ouster, hundreds have been killed in crackdowns on protesters demanding Morsi’s reinstatement. Attacks by Islamic extremists against security forces and Christians have increased. A nationalist fervor gripping the country has elevated the military to an untouchable status, leaving little tolerance among the public or officials for criticism.

For now, Youssef appears undeterred. After Friday’s show aired, Youssef took to Twitter to remind the public that the show just began: “It is only an episode in a program, people.”