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Egypt satirist who mocked army fined millions

December 23, 2014

A prominent Egyptian satirist has been fined millions of dollars over a dispute with a television channel which suspended his show after it lampooned military leaders, officials said Tuesday.

Bassem Youssef, often compared to US satirist Jon Stewart, moved Al-Bernameg (The Programme) to Saudi-owned channel MBC last year after it was pulled by the private Egyptian broadcaster CBC.

The Cairo Regional Centre for International Commercial Arbitration fined Youssef and his company, Q-Soft, 50 million Egyptian pounds ($6.5 million, 5.5 million euros) each for “CBC’s financial and literary losses,” CBC owner Mohamed al-Amin told AFP.

The arbitration body said the weekly show was not “purposeful and constructive” but a platform for “smearing the country’s political direction”.

It said that if Youssef’s company failed to pay its part of the fine then he would have to shoulder it all himself.

CBC suspended Al-Bernameg in November 2013 after an episode in which the satirist poked fun at military leaders including then army chief and now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The private channel said at the time that Youssef had “violated the editorial policies” of the channel.

Youssef terminated his contract with the channel after it refused to resume broadcasts of the show, a source close to Al-Bernameg told AFP.

In February 2014, he began airing the show on Dubai-based MBC but suspended it in June because of what he described as “enormous” pressure.

The doctor-turned-satirist plans to appeal the arbitration body’s ruling, the Al-Bernameg source said.

“I have been forced into a commercial arbitration conflict, that I am not part of, regarding CBC’s suspension of the show,” Youssef wrote on Twitter.

The show’s suspension triggered concerns about media freedoms in Egypt amid a brutal crackdown overseen by Sisi on supporters of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, whom he ousted in July last year.

Youssef became a household name known for witty remarks lampooning public figures including Morsi, the country’s first freely elected president.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.