Egyptian crackdown includes top comic

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CAIRO -- Egypt's state prosecutors ordered the arrest Saturday of a popular television satirist for allegedly insulting Islam and the country's leader, in a move that government opponents say is aimed at silencing critics of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

The arrest warrant for Bassem Youssef, who is known as Egypt's Jon Stewart, followed an order earlier this week by the country's top prosecutor to arrest five prominent pro-democracy activists in what the opposition has characterized as a widening campaign against dissent.

The acceleration in legal action targeting protesters, activists and critics comes against a backdrop of continued unrest in the country. Political compromise between the well-organized Islamists in power and their vocal liberal and largely secular critics remains elusive, while the country's economy is in near free fall, which has increasingly fueled frustration.

The opposition charges that Morsi, in office for nine months, and the Brotherhood have failed to tackle any of the nation's pressing problems and are trying to monopolize power. Morsi blames the country's woes on nearly three decades of corruption under his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, and accuses the opposition of stoking unrest.

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The warrant against Youssef is the latest in a series of legal actions against the comedian, whose widely watched weekly show, "ElBernameg" or "The Program," has become a platform for lampooning the government, opposition, media and clerics. He has also used his program to fact-check politicians.

Youssef has been a target of lawsuits, most of them brought by Islamist lawyers who have accused him of "corrupting morals" or violating "religious principles." Prosecutor Mohammed el-Sayed Khalifa told Al-Ahram online that he has heard 28 plaintiffs accusing Youssef of insulting Islam, mocking prayers, and "belittling" Morsi.

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