Egypt’s Bassem Youssef Returns to Television
By Molly Hofsommer and Mai El-Sadany
After a three-month absence, Egyptian satirist and columnist Bassem Youssef returned to the air today, charming his audience with yet another satirical commentary on Egypt’s current social and political environment.
Youssef began the episode by mocking the heavy censorship that has impeded independent journalists’ ability to cover non-traditional viewpoints, as well as his own ability to host his show without interference. He also joked about freedom of expression and the opposition towards his show by other political and media personalities; this opposition has included accusations of foreign funding and calls for his execution. Youssef also debunked opponents’ critiques that humor was no longer appropriate in light of the war on terror that Egypt is fighting.
Youssef was quick to poke fun over the national obsession of Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Al Sisi’s and his potential decision to run for the presidency. Youssef light-heartedly referred to only being able to stay on air if he refrained from making jokes of any sort related to the Field Marshal, which he finds to be almost impossible in a country in which the Sisi-hype has seeped into everything from soccer matches to jewelry stores and fast food establishments.
The episode ended with a live performance and never-released content by Cairokee, an Egyptian indie rock band that has largely sung politically-inspired lyrics and anti-establishment protest songs in the wake of Egypt’s revolution and is currently celebrating the release of its newest album.
Inspired by Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, Youssef created his first satirical show The B+ Show and posted it on YouTube in March 2011. The show gained more than five million views in the first three months; with its success, Youssef was offered a deal for a new program, Al Bernameg, on Egyptian channel ONTV in 2011. The show’s second season, which premiered in November 2012 and had 29 episodes, was aired on another Egyptian network, CBC.
In March 2013, the Morsi Administration responded to Youssef’s lampooning by launching an official state investigation that resulted in charges of insulting the president and Islam. Youssef was subsequently questioned by authorities before being released on LE 15,000 bail and in May 2013, when –with much foresight – he told told Human Rights First “Things are better for the media than before but they should be much better. There are landmines affecting freedom of speech in the future and they are starting to show.”
Al Bernameg returned in late October 2013 after a four-month break following Morsi’s ousting. During his return, Youssef criticized both the Morsi administration, the people’s love for General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, and private and public media. His jabs included a warning that “fascism in the name of religion will be replaced by fascism in the name of patriotism and national security.” Al Bernameg’s return, however, was short lived. The CBC network, which had close ties to the Mubarak regime, suspended the program pointing to Youssef’s “failure to follow editorial polices.” Youssef also found himself as the subject of another state-backed investigation, this time launched by public prosecutor Hisham Barakat after a viewer complained that Youssef had harmed the public interest and risked creating chaos in the country.
Youssef was able to return to the air today via MBC Misr, the Egyptian affiliate of the Dubai-based MBC Group. Prior to today’s broadcast Youssef recognized the turbulent run of Al Bernameg during the show’s promo with the words “beware of frequent stops” flashing across the screen. The military-backed government’s recent crackdown on freedom of expression means Youssef is taking a big risk in returning to TV.