The Harshest Critic of Egypt's Liberal Protesters Is One of Their Own

Egypt's liberals have a powerful, outspoken new critic, and he's one of their own: "My dear anti-Brotherhood liberal, allow me to remind you that just a few weeks ago you were desperately complaining about how grim the future looked, but now that you have been 'relieved' of them you have become a carbon copy of their fascism and discrimination," the critic appealed in Egypt's al-Shorouk newspaper.

That critic? It's Bassem Youssef, the popular satirist whose TV show, al-Bernameg ("The Program"), is an incisive Egyptian version of The Daily Show.

Youssef had more reason than most to be wary of Mohamed Morsy's government. After months of legal challenges, he was arrested in March and questioned to determine if he should face a court case for supposedly insulting Islam and Morsy. He's been a persistent critic of the government. In his weekly column for al-Shorouk the day before the military coup, he voiced his support for the nationwide Tamarod protests. The next day, he took to Twitter in English, telling the Muslim Brotherhood, in referance to the organization's @IkhwanWeb feed, "not only you can tweet in English."

Youssef didn't air his show after the coup, tweeting, "There will be no episode this week, this is a no-laughing matter," but he kept writing. On July 9, his column (translated here for Al Arabiya) speculated that the coup staved off an oppressive crackdown. "We can imagine what could have happened if President Mohammed Mursi stayed in his post," he wrote. "In this parallel world, the decision to shut down private channels was going to be implemented, political and media figures were going to be arrested and accusations of high treason and plans to change the regime were going to be made against prominent politicians."

Defending the shuttering of some news stations broadcasting coverage sympathetic to the Morsy government, he acknowledged that, "Yes, in a perfect world, shutting down channels and isolating leaderships is wrong and a violation of freedoms. But, my dear, you were not living in a perfect world. To those who dream of co-existence, how do you co-exist with he who wants to raise arms in your face and with he who considers killing you and imprisoning you or shutting down your media outlet as a victory for Islam?... My dear reader, in the parallel world, you won't read this article because its writer will either be imprisoned or killed."

This commentary makes Youssef's latest op-ed all the more striking. In his column for al-Shorouk on Tuesday (translated here by Tahrir Squared), he calls for the reopening of TV channels closed by the Egyptian military in the coup. "I do believe that shutting down the Islamist channels [last week] was an important decision during a sensitive period," he writes, "but I'm now calling for their return.... Do not give them the chance to play the victim. What are you afraid of? Of their discriminatory media rhetoric? Or of their public political stupidity?"

Many of Egypt's liberals "are on a 'victory high' -- or so they imagine themselves to be," he writes. "The fascist nature of those people is no different than that of the Islamists who think that their enemies' disappearance off this planet would be a victory for the religion of God. But those on this 'victory high' consider themselves to be different; they justify their fascism for the 'good of the country.' ... We have replaced the 'enemies of Islam' scarecrow with the 'enemies of the state' scarecrow."

Political moderation, Youssef writes, has become an island populated by "those isolated few, their voices fading in the midst of the roaring cries for vengeance and murder." It's a bleak portrait of Egypt's hyper-polarized politics, but Youssef worries it could get worse, concluding, "maybe in the future people will migrate to [the island] and try to get to know this thing called humanity that we've all been stripped of. What I fear most is if a time comes when we pass by that island and cry in dismay: 'Alas, nobody lives there anymore.'"


National Security

How a CIA Officer Wanted for Kidnapping in Italy Ended Up Arrested in Panama

On Wednesday, the story of Robert Seldon Lady, a former CIA station chief in Milan, Italy, took another improbable turn when he was arrested in Panama near the Costa Rican border. Lady has been living quietly in the United States since fleeing an Italian investigation that resulted in him and 22 other Americans being convicted in absentia for their roles in the 2003 abduction of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, a radical cleric the CIA believed was helping recruit jihadists to fight in Iraq.

Nasr, who also went by Abu Omar, was pulled off a Milanese street during a daily noon-time walk. He was thrown into the back of a van, driven to Aviano Air Base, near Venice, and then flown to Egypt, where he was interrogated and tortured. The practice of seizing suspected terrorists and forcibly removing them to a third-party state for interrogation is often known as extraordinary rendition; in the eyes of the Italian judicial system, though, Nasr's abduction was kidnapping. After an investigation implicated a collection of CIA agents in Italy, tying their cell phones to the place and time at which Nasr was thrown into the van, the Italian government conducted a trial that sentenced 23 Americans to seven to nine years each in prison. The convictions were upheld last September by the Italian Supreme Court.

According to a 2007 investigation of the incident by Matthew Cole, published in GQ, Lady's role in the operation was to have lunch with and ease the suspicions of Bruno Megale, the head of Milan's antiterrorism police while, across town, agents seized Nasr and began driving him toward Venice. According to Cole's account, Lady had actually advised against the operation, but had been overruled by his supervisor in Rome and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice. Lady, who, at the time, was a 21-year CIA veteran, was planning to retire to a recently purchased Italian villa, but left Italy as the investigation began and has not been able to return. When the home was searched in 2005, Italian investigators found Lady's "flight itinerary to Egypt, an e-mail from a former colleague telling him to flee Italy, and surveillance photos -- one of which showed Omar a month before the rendition in the exact spot where he was later snatched," according to Cole.

From the United States, Lady hired an attorney and took a more active role in the case. But by the time Cole spoke to him in 2007, he had become more withdrawn. "The agency told me to keep quiet and let this blow over," he told Cole. "But it's not blowing over for me." He's not the only one of his cohort to raise concerns publicly. In July 2012, the Washington Post profiled Sabrina De Sousa, who was sentenced to seven years in prison for her role in the abduction; in the article, De Sousa criticized the U.S. government for not pushing for diplomatic immunity and worried about the potential for her arrest while traveling to India.

That seems to be what happened to Lady. According to Italian media cited by the BBC, the Italian government issued an international warrant in December 2012, which led to Lady's arrest in Panama. The Italian government now has two months to request that Panama extradite Lady to serve his nine-year sentence.