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Jon Stewart takes Egypt

CAIRO — “Don’t Laugh,” reads the cover of the Egypt Independent, an opposition English weekly. The headline stands above an image of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi in Pakistani academic regalia, topped off with a bulky cylindrical hat crowned with gold trimming. The photograph of Morsi receiving an honorary degree from Pakistan's National University of Science and Technology has come to epitomize a leader who is out of touch with his country. His headwear and the attendant absurdity of arresting Egypt’s most popular comedian, have most of Egypt in stitches.

Satirist Bassem Youssef, who hosts "The Program" (in Arabic, "El-Bernameg"), a weekly production modeled on Jon Stewart’s "The Daily Show," has been snickering at that enormous hat, too. Earlier this week, when Youssef was summoned by the country’s top prosecutor in response to legal changes of insulting Morsi and Islam, Youssef himself wore a massive, to the point of ridiculous, replica of the hat in question. But why arrest Youssef now? Will the legal action trigger a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Egypt?

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