Bloomberg News

Stewart’s Mursi Jab Prompts Cairo Embassy Twitter Review

April 03, 2013

Bassem Youssef

Bassem Youssef, Egyptian satirist and television host, is surrounded by his supporters upon his arrival at the public prosecutor's office in the high court in Cairo on March 31, 2013. Photographer: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. embassy in Cairo is reviewing its social media policy after briefly shutting its Twitter Inc. account, following Egyptian complaints about a post regarding comedian Jon Stewart’s criticism of President Mohamed Mursi.

When the @USEmbassyCairo Twitter feed reappeared yesterday, it was without an item about a segment on Stewart’s “Daily Show” broadcast that took Mursi to task for the arrest of Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef, who had mocked the president’s headgear and facility with the English language.

“Making fun of hats and the president’s English?” Stewart said on the April 1 segment of his Comedy Central program. Photos of Stewart and former President George W. Bush, both in cowboy hats, appeared on screen. “That’s all I did for eight years,” Stewart said.

The embassy’s Twitter post rankled sensitivities in Egypt as the country resumed talks yesterday with the International Monetary Fund for a $4.8 billion loan. Stewart’s charge that Mursi is stifling free speech echoed concerns expressed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other administration officials about speech restrictions, arrests, and treatment of minorities in Egypt.

“The embassy is now reviewing its procedures,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday about the Cairo embassy’s Twitter account.

Individual embassies and consulates are responsible for their own Twitter feeds “and they are expected to use good policy judgment in doing that,” she said.

Egypt’s Stewart

Youssef, who’s known as Egypt’s Jon Stewart, has been released on bail. Mursi’s presidential office said on its Facebook page yesterday that “all citizens are free to express themselves without the restrictions that prevailed” under longtime leader Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in the 2011 popular uprising.

Nuland said on April 1 that Youssef’s arrest and questioning on charges of insulting Islam and Mursi, along with warrants issued for political activists, “is evidence of a disturbing trend of growing restrictions on the freedom of expression.”

She also spoke of U.S. concern that Egypt is slow in investigating attacks on protesters outside the presidential palace or cases of police brutality.

Kerry, who traveled to Cairo in March to urge Mursi to take steps to revive the economy, said April 2 that the Obama administration has “real concerns about the direction that Egypt appears to be moving in.”

‘Blatant Interference’

The ruling Islamist party that Mursi once belonged to, the Muslim Brotherhood, called Nuland’s remarks “blatant interference.” Yesterday, the spokeswoman said the U.S. administration backs the comments that she and Kerry made.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, said April 2 on its Twitter feed that it had been “inappropriate for a diplomatic mission to engage in such negative political propaganda.”

Stewart showed clips of Youssef appearing as a guest on his Comedy Central show and said, “I know Bassem. Bassem is my brother.”

The 50-year-old comedian addressed Mursi directly. “When you are actually powerful, you don’t have to be petty,” Stewart said. “I know. I’m petty all the time.”

Stewart showed a clip of comments by Mursi in a January 2012 interview with CNN, when the Egyptian leader said that “whoever criticizes me has the full right to do so.”

Asked specifically about Youssef, among other critics, Mursi said “there is no way harm can befall them because of their opinions or their personal opposition.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Nicole Gaouette in Washington at ngaouette@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net


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