Egypt's 'revolutionary cleric' suspended over sermon


Egyptian satirist and television host Bassem Youssef is surrounded by his supporters upon his arrival at the public prosecutor's office in the high court in Cairo, on March 31, 2013.


Khaled Desouki

CAIRO, Egypt — An Egyptian Muslim cleric known as "the preacher of the revolution" for his sermons in Tahrir Square has been suspended following complaints of his criticism of President Mohammed Morsi, while the popular satirist Bassem Youssef faces new allegations of "insulting Pakistan."

The "revolutionary cleric" Sheik Mazhar Shahin told the Associated Press an inspector from the Religious Endowments Ministry said he would be suspended while the ministry looked into the complaint.

Sheikh Shahin rose to prominence for his revolutionary sermons at the Omar Makram mosque in Tahrir Square during the uprising. Since then, he has been critical of both Egypt’s erstwhile military rulers and President Morsi, whom he backed during the presidential elections last year.

The complaint accused him of acting "like a TV station or opposition paper" and causing further divide by criticizing Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Shahin also said his position had already been filled by a replacement.

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The complaint was prompted by a sermon Shahin gave the last Friday. The preacher warned against Muslim Brotherhood control over institutions like the police, military and the Islamic institute of Al-Azhar. He also called on Morsi to reach out to his opponents.

"The sermon went against your Excellency's instructions to preachers of not using the pulpit for political or partisan purposes," the citizen said in the complaint, addressing the minister, according to the AP. "I ask you to take the necessary measures about what Sheikh Mazhar Shahin has done by turning the pulpit of the mosque into something of a satellite TV or an opposition paper."

The endowments ministry says imams should not use their weekly sermons for political purposes.

Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef, who was previously arrested for his Jon-Stewart brand of political humor that is said to have insulted Morsi, is also facing new allegations, this time of "insulting Pakistan," "spreading atheism" and "insulting Islam."

A prosecution office in the northern governorate of Damietta said it is probing the three complaints received against Youssef.

Judicial sources told Agence France-Presse that Youssef is accused of “insulting the state of Pakistan and causing tensions in its relations with Egypt."

In an episode of his TV show, The Program, which aired after Morsi visited Pakistan in March, Youssef made fun of a hat worn by the president when he received an honorary doctorate at a university in Islamabad.

Youssef is now accused of harming diplomatic ties between the two countries.

Th new complaints against Youssef and Sheikh Shahin are part of a growing trend that has seen private citizens or Islamist-allied lawyers filing lawsuits against critics of President Morsi.

Youssef has been the most high profile victim of these lawsuits — which anyone can initiate — against “insulting the president.”

It's unclear if Youssef, who was released last week on bail for previous charges, can actually be charged with insulting another country.

The suit filed reportedly says Youssef has damaged Egypt’s relations with Pakistan after poking fun of the hat Morsi — and other Pakistani dignitaries — wore when awarding Morsi with an honorary degree in Islamabad. There have been no formal complaints from Pakistani officials.