The Middle East’s kings of cowardice

Marc Lynch writes: Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef rocketed to global celebrity last month after being charged for insulting President Mohamed Morsy. The escalation against Youssef was rooted in the intense polarization of local Egyptian politics and the prickly, insecure nature of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government.

The move badly backfired on the Egyptian government: It inspired widespread global contempt for Morsy, global fame and celebrity for Youssef, a minor diplomatic crisis, and much-feared mockery by Jon Stewart. Youssef was even selected as one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in the wake of the incident. But while Youssef’s prosecution drew massive media attention, a wave of increasingly disproportionate crackdowns for “insulting” leaders across the Gulf might actually be more significant.

For an area that most people still believe remains unaffected by the Arab uprisings, the Gulf has been awfully tough on public critics of late. Kuwait plunged into days of intense protests and political turmoil this week after leading opposition figure Musallam al-Barrak was sentenced to five years in prison for publicly challenging the emir to avoid autocratic rule. The attempt to arrest Barrak — which itself turned into something of a farce when he eluded the police for days — was only the latest in an escalating campaign of Kuwaiti repression. [Continue reading…]

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