Popular Egyptian TV satirist pulled off the air

(CBS News) CAIRO - Nearly four months to the day Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi was overthrown by the military, a prominent Egyptian TV host has been yanked off the air. There are new concerns in Egypt about free speech.

He has been called "Egypt's Jon Stewart," a wildly popular satirist with a biting tongue who is not afraid to mock those in power.

Egyptian TV satirist Bassem Youssef
CBS News

During Mohammed Morsi's rocky year as president, Bassem Youssef frequently took shots at the gaffe-prone leader and his unusual head-wear. In this part of the world, comedians just don't do that. The real Jon Stewart was impressed and the two had even met at Youssef's show.

"Does satire get you into trouble?" Youssef asked Stewart. "I mean what about the love you get from the people?"

"I tell you this," Stewart answered, "it doesn't get me into the kind of trouble it gets you into."

After a four-month hiatus, during which Egypt's military overthrew Morsi, Egyptians were curious to see if Youssef would be as caustic with the new guard.

Watch a "Sunday Morning" profile on Bassem Youssef:

His first show appeared to be testing the waters, poking fun at the cult of personality emerging around Gen. Abdul Fattah al Sisi, the country's defense minister and the man behind the military takeover.

In one skit, a baker is trying to sell Youssef cakes bearing Sisi's image. Youssef asks for a quarter pound. "What's the matter, you don't like Sisi?" says the baker threateningly. To which Youssef quickly replies, "I'll take all of them."

The joke fell flat, to say the least. Angry viewers filed lawsuits. And on Friday night, his network pulled him off the air -- suspending him, they said, because he had not followed editorial policies.

Egypt's military and the interim government said they were not behind the move, saying that they support "freedom of expression." But the suspension raises questions about freedom of speech in Egypt, coming on the heels of a massive crackdown on supporters of Morsi.

On Saturday night, a small group gathered to protest Youssef's suspension. Nobel Peace prize laureate, Mohammed al Baradei, who supported the military takeover, wrote this on Twitter: "Freedom of expression is the mother of all freedoms; if it is limited to those we agree with, then it is a hollow slogan."

The show released a statement Saturday saying its employees were saddened by the suspension and that Youssef has done nothing to violate legal or professional standards. They promise to continue taping episodes and said there will be more details to come soon.

  • Clarissa Ward

    Foreign Correspondent, CBS News

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