Egypt’s Bassem Youssef Responds to Controversy
Bassem Youssef, dubbed the “Jon Stewart” of Egypt, is responding to the recent controversy over his satire by telling people to lighten up.
Youssef told The Progressive that the future of Egypt will depend on people maintaining their sense of humor and wit in the face of injustice.
“We are a country of people who are very comedic. We are funny,” he said in a prepared statement. “Egyptians like to laugh and this is part of how we deal with living in the country right now.”
He argued that the ongoing battles over the future of the country and the violence in the streets should end, and that he doesn’t want to be seen as a symbol of any resistance.
“I try to be like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert in my program. I think I am getting there, but in Egypt too many people want power and fame. Let’s do something good and then go get the cream before we start attacking each other. Just laugh sometimes. Even the Brotherhood need to do that,” he continued.
Over the past few weeks, Youssef has faced attack after attack, highlighting the reality that the ruling Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t understand sarcasm and wants to stifle any opinions that run counter to their rigid conservatism.
On Saturday, an Egyptian court dismissed one of the many lawsuits against Youssef and the satellite channel CBC that airs his widely popular political satire show, “Al-Bernameg,” or The Program.
He still has to face similar lawsuits, including one that purports he is a supporter of “Zionist” propaganda due to his relationship with Comedy Central’s Stewart. It would be laughable, except that those attacking the comedian are very serious.
One of the Islamist lawyers who filed a case against Youssef said that his show “violates the principles of satellite broadcasting, which obligates presenters not to negatively impact social peace, national unity or morals.”
He still faces legal cases for “insulting the president” and “defaming religion.”
But the Brotherhood and President Mohamed Morsi are not smiling much in recent days, and even Youssef’s jokes aren’t getting a chuckle. On the micro-blogging site Twitter, Morsi lashed out at the United States Embassy in Cairo after they had retweeted a segment from Stewart’s The Daily Show defending his counterpart in Egypt.
“It’s inappropriate for a diplomatic mission to engage in such negative political propaganda,” Morsi wrote on Twitter.
Only a little while later, however, after Egyptians responded with a barrage of tweets over the matter, that specific tweet was deleted. But the local media was able to take screenshots of the tweet before taken down, which resulted in a torrid of conversations and discussion on the issue.
The battle over Youssef’s show, comedy and criminalizing speech is yet another sign that Egypt is not heading as forward as it had hoped over two years on from a revolution that ousted one dictator.
“I think we all can agree that doing our job, creating something that makes people think, is part of democracy. It’s sad the Brothers don’t see it that way,” Youssef added.
After the recent dust-up between the U.S. government and the Egyptian government, he tweeted: “Guys calm down, there is bread and strawberries between us,” playing off the Egyptian phrase “to have bread and salt between us,” which means, “We are close as a family.”
Joseph Mayton is an American journalist who worked in Cairo for the past several years.
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