U.S. Folds in 'Twitter War' Over 'Egyptian Jon Stewart'

Bassam Youssef, who is regarded as Egypt's most popular comedian, was arrested and interrogated by the police several days ago on the claim that his program's comedy routines were an insult to President Morsi and Islam.

The Twitter crisis that erupted recently between Egypt and the United States over the arrest of Egyptian comedian Bassam Youssef has ended with unprecedented American capitulation. After a day of diplomatic pressure and the trading of allegations on the social networks, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo deleted a tweet that took a jab at Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and had expressed support for Youssef.

The case surfaced Tuesday when the American embassy in Cairo tweeted a link to a clip from "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" on its official Twitter feed. In the sketch in question, Stewart got his laughs at the expense of President Morsi, directing his criticism of the Egyptian leader over Morsi's decision to arrest Youssef. In the skit, Stewart characterized the president of Egypt as petty and crazy.

Youssef, who is regarded as Egypt's most popular comedian, hosts a satire show that is similar to Stewart's. The Egyptian comic was arrested and interrogated by the police several days ago on the claim that his program's comedy routines were an insult to Morsi and Islam.

The U.S. embassy in Cairo, wishing to express its identification with Youssef and its criticism of his arrest by Egyptian authorities, decided to do it by tweeting a link to Jon Stewart's show. 

The Egyptian reaction was not long in coming. President Morsi's office was quick to attack the American embassy for its official tweet. In its own tweet, Morsi's office countered: "It's inappropriate for a diplomatic mission to engage in such negative political propaganda."

The U.S. embassy also came under Twitter attack from the Muslim Brotherhood, with which Morsi is affiliated. That tweet called the American embassy's move undiplomatic and unwise as a result of what it said was the embassy's decision to take sides in an investigation over the disregard for Egyptian law and culture.

The exchange of accusations on Twitter intensified the media storm around Youssef's arrest and they became the talk of Egypt. At the same time, the issue created major tension between the Egyptian government and the American embassy.

And then without warning on Wednesday afternoon, the official Twitter account of the U.S. embassy in Cairo was deleted. It returned a few hours later, but the link to the video critical of Morsi as well as other critical tweets had been deleted.

Journalist Josh Rogin, who writes the blog "The Cable" on the website of Foreign Policy magazine reported that the decision to take down the account and remove the "problematic" tweets was made by Ann Patterson, the American ambassador in Cairo. She reportedly came under heavy pressure from Morsi's office and took down the account without consulting with the State Department in Washington.

Patterson's decision prompted sharp criticism from the State Department and from American commentators and bloggers. Rogin quoted State Department officials in Washington who called the decision to take down the Twitter account an American surrender to pressure.

Washington Post blogger Max Fisher attacked Patterson on Twitter, claiming the "U.S. Embassy Cairo has done a great job changing the story from 'Morsi jails critic [and the Muslim Brotherhood] attacks Jews' to 'U.S. caves to criticism.'"

Screenshot