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Muslim Brotherhood accuses Nuland of ‘unreserved audacity’

Muslim Brotherhood accuses Nuland of ‘unreserved audacity’

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood lashed out Tuesday against State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland after Nuland criticized the Egyptian government for stifling freedom of expression.

Nuland dressed down the Egyptian government for a series of actions against its domestic critics, including the detention and interrogation of Bassem Youssef, Egypt’s answer to The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart, on charges that Youssef had insulted Islam and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy. Youssef was released after five hours of interrogation and fined 15,000 Egyptian pounds, equivalent to about $2,200.

"We are concerned that the public prosecutor appears to have questioned and then released on bail Bassam Youssef on charges of insulting Islam and President Morsy. This coupled with recent arrest warrants issued for other political activists is evidence of a disturbing trend of growing restrictions on the freedom of expression," Nuland said at Monday’s press briefing.

"We’re also concerned that the government of Egypt seems to be investigating these cases while it has been slow or inadequate in investigating attacks on demonstrators outside of the presidential palace in December 2012, other cases of extreme police brutality, and illegally blocked entry of journalists to media cities. So there does not seem to be an evenhanded application of justice here."

Secretary of State John Kerry raised concerns about human rights and freedom of the press with Morsy when Kerry was in Egypt last month, Nuland said. She also said that a new NGO law in Egypt "would have a chilling effect on the ability of Egyptian NGOs in the first instance, but also international NGOs to support the democratic process in Egypt."

The Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, took issue with Nuland’s comments on their official Facebook page.

Referring directly to Nuland’s remarks about Youssef, the FJP said they are outraged at her "unreserved audacity" and her "blatant interference in the internal affairs of Egypt on an issue that is still under investigation" and is being dealt with through the Egyptian legal system.

Nuland’s remarks suggest that the main concern is insulting the president, while in actuality the primary issue is ridiculing and contempt of religion, the FJP said. The party made clear its "severe and absolute condemnation" of Nuland’s statements.

In response to the FJP’s Facebook post, Nuland held firm.

"We standby the position of the US government which I articulated yesterday," she told The Cable.

Outside experts see the Muslim Brotherhood’s comments as similar to the way the Egyptian government defended its attacks on freedom of expression during the reign of deposed president Hosni Mubarak.

"This kind of language from FJP is very similar to the language Mubarak’s Foreign Ministers used to use objecting to human rights criticism from the U.S. government," said Tamara Cofman Wittes, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, now head of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center. "There is nothing new here except clear evidence of the FJP’s lack of concern for the international human rights norms to which they have repeatedly claimed fealty."