By Contributor on April 09, 2013

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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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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