CAIRO - Egypt's most popular television satirist, who every week skewers the Islamist president and hard-line clerics on his Jon Stewart-style show, was released on bail Sunday but could face charges of insulting the country's leader and Islam.
Bassem Youssef is the most prominent critic of President Mohammed Morsi to be called in for questioning in recent weeks, in what the opposition says is a campaign to intimidate critics amid wave after wave of political unrest in deeply polarized Egypt.
Arrest warrants have been issued for five prominent anti-government activists accused of instigating violence.
Deputy chief prosecutor Hassan Yassin denied the nearly five-hour interrogation was part of an intimidation campaign and said his department was enforcing the law and seeking to establish some guidelines on freedom of expression.
"The prosecution is the protector of social rights and we work on implementing the law. . . . There must be guidelines for those working in the media to observe so as not violate the law," Yassin told The Associated Press.
Morsi last week accused private media of fanning violence and argued that it was being used for political aims.
But Yassin denied that the prosecutor's office was operating at the behest of the presidency to go after Morsi's critics, saying it has also interrogated and sentenced Islamists. Morsi appointed the chief prosecutor late last year despite an outcry from many in the judiciary who accused him of trampling on their right to choose the top prosecutor.
A court ruling last week declared Morsi's appointment void, a verdict he is likely to appeal.
Youssef is the host of a weekly political satire show known for his skits lampooning Morsi and Egypt's newly empowered Islamist political class. But he also mocks the opposition and the media.
The fast-paced show has attracted a wide viewership, while at the same time earning its fair share of detractors. Youssef has been a frequent target of lawsuits, most of them brought by Islamist lawyers who accused him of "corrupting morals" or violating "religious principles."
In his last episode this week, Youssef thanked Morsi for providing him with so much material.