October 25, 2013 Special Dispatch No. 5495

Egyptian Satirist Bassem Youssef Ahead Of His Show's Return To Airwaves: Neither Mursi's Camp Nor Al-Sisi's Can Take Criticism

October 25, 2013
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 5495

The Egyptian satirical TV show "Al-Bernameg" ("The Show"), hosted by renowned satirist Bassem Youssef, starts airing again today (October 25, 2013) on Egypt's CBC channel, after a four-month hiatus. Youssef, named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world, has drawn public and media attention in Egypt and abroad with his bold criticism of former Egyptian president Muhammad Mursi and of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).[1] However, until this week, Youssef has refrained from criticizing the current Egyptian authorities that deposed Mursi in July.

In his latest column in the Egyptian daily Al-Shurouq,[2] published three days ago and titled "Welcome Back to My Show," Youssef condemned both the MB camp and Al-Sisi's camp, saying that each side enjoys jokes and criticism at the expense of the other but that neither camp can tolerate it when directed against itself – to the extent of taking legal measures against critics. Mursi's opponents, he said, applauded his attacks on Mursi and encouraged him to continue them, but today they are warning him not to target Al-Sisi on his show. Youssef concluded by saying that in Egypt, nobody is tolerant, not even those who call themselves liberals.

Also in the column he denied rumors that the Egyptian authorities and security services had delayed the return of his show, which was supposed to be back late last month, explaining that the holdup was due to other reasons.

It should be noted that yesterday (October 24), the day before the show's return, a governmental legal body that advises the State Council[3] recommended that the case opened against the show several months ago for insulting Mursi be reopened, on the grounds that insulting the president on a television show is never legitimate.[4]

The following are excerpts from an English translation of Youssef's column that was published on Al-Arabiya's English-language website.[5]

Al-Bernameg host Bassem Youssef (image: Youssef's Facebook Page)

Each Sides Opposes Us When We Voice Opinions Contrary To Its Own

"'So who will you talk about now?' Are you wondering how many times I've heard this since Mohammad Mursi was ousted? A lot!... When we started the show online and then moved to television, we considered this our chance to present a new way of expressing opinions through mockery and comedy. Many people accepted this new way, while others rejected it claiming it was haram (forbidden by Islam) or inappropriate. But in reality, many of those who objected did so because they did not like the program's orientations and opinions.

"Many Brotherhood members who liked the show during its first season started to hate it just because we performed a rap song against them. The enmity, of course, increased during the second season when Mursi and hosts of religious programs provided us with permanent, renewable, material. When people live in a state of terror, fear, anger and hatred, no one wants to listen to the voice of reason, let alone that of sarcasm! The show was the Brotherhood's enemies' favorite. But even they did not tolerate [some] segments when we mocked Ahmad Shafiq or criticized their stance when they besieged the Brotherhood headquarters in Moqattam.[6]

"In our country, many evaluate a program or a host based on how much they agree with this host and not based on the quality of what is being presented. They tell you: 'Say whatever you want, but stay objective. Stay neutral.' And then you get confused interpreting 'neutral and objective' because in reality they mean: 'Say what I approve of.'"

Al-Sisi's Supporters Warn Me: Don't You Dare Speak About Him

"When General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's supporters see me, they make the preemptive move of warning, 'Don't you dare talk about Sisi.' They do so although they are the same people who used to wait for the program so they could hear me talk about Mursi. Not only that, but after the episode's end, they used to tell me: 'But you were nice to him.' It is as if they weren't pleased unless I insulted someone and his parents. When I confront them with that, they repeat the same statements made by the Brotherhood. Statements like: 'It's inappropriate. It's not the time for this.' The truth is, there's no tolerance by the Brotherhood or by those who call themselves liberals. Everyone is looking for a suitable pharaoh [to oppose].

"On Al-Jazeera, they broadcast a documentary stating that 'Al-Bernameg,' my show, was an important reason for Mursi's fall. They insinuated that a sarcastic show broadcast once a week for less than one hour was capable of toppling a regime and an organization which is more than 80 years old. They claimed that the show harmed Mursi's governance more than Mursi himself harmed it. And if this is true, then it is proof of the government's fragility and not of the [show's] strength.

"I don't usually talk about 'Al-Bernameg' in my articles. But, I am talking about it now to clarify a few things. I have kept silent in the past few weeks when I read or heard rumors about the program and whether it was stopped or whether it will resume. This is why I chose to clarify these things because the issue is deeper than just talking about a television show.

"We stopped [airing the program during] Ramadan and Eid al-Adha because they are vacations announced in advance. Our return was delayed because of the curfew and because we don't shoot the show at the Production City but downtown, a few meters away from Tahrir Square. It wasn't acceptable to jeopardize the crew and the audience. When the curfew was decreased, we decided to return. But then we postponed our return again after my mother passed away. So we decided to return after the 40th day of her mourning.

"During the weeks when the program wasn't broadcast, I [followed] the rumors, analyses and speculations which became news and [concrete facts]. There was news that the program was stopped, and news that I was banned from appearing on TV and that the contract with the station ended 'after I performed my role,' as they put it.

"What is interesting is that weeks after gloating [that] the program 'has been banned,' after we announced that the program will resume and after we explained the reasons behind the delay, the tune changed to 'we dare you to criticize Sisi and [Interim President] Adly Mansour.' If we were to do this, they would [have said that] it's not enough or that it's a charade, or they would demand: 'do just like you did with Mursi'...

"Therefore, [whether] you are Islamic or a liberal or you love the military or the Brotherhood, don't convince yourself that you are objective or neutral. You are biased and prejudiced, just like you [claim of] this host or that channel."

When The Situation In The Country Is Depressing, We Will Do Our Best To Make People Smile

"Sisi's fans use the same terms that Mursi's fans used. They will not stand [to hear] a word against Sisi. Their defense of freedom and democracy will stop the minute they are annoyed by the same joke they applauded before... I [was sent] to the attorney general because of the Brotherhood, and I may visit him again soon because of other people who love freedom 'like [the apple of] their eye' or [maybe] love freedom according to their mood.

"I admit that the situation is now more difficult, not because the material coming from religious channels or Mursi has decreased, but because the general mood has become different. How will we come up with a sarcastic comic program when bloody talk is all we have day and night? How do we make people laugh when their daily lives are full of talk about terrorism, fear and murder? When people live in a state of terror, fear, anger and hatred, no one wants to listen to the voice of reason, let alone that of sarcasm! When someone asks me: 'What will you do after this? How will you make us laugh?' I say that political sarcastic shows are society's mirror. If everything in the country is depressing, we will do our best to draw a smile on the face of those who are bored [with] traditional shows and we will laugh with them instead of crying.

"The challenge is great... I don't promise you that you will roll on the floor laughing when you watch the new season of 'Al-Bernameg' but we promise you that [you] will enjoy what we are doing, [for] we produce a different media product which we've put all our effort into. I apologize in advance because you will not agree with everything I say. You may hate us and you may even 'look down on us.'

"Therefore, I conclude this article with these famous sayings: 'He who tries to please everybody, pleases nobody.' 'There's no accounting for taste.' 'This is why God created the remote [control].' God willing, we'll see you on Oct. 25."


[2] Al-Shurouq (Egypt), October 22, 2013.

[3] The State Council is one of the five bodies that comprise Egypt's judicial branch. It gives legal advice to the government, drafts legislation, and exercises jurisdiction over administrative cases. It includes a set of administrative courts that adjudicate disputes in which a state body is a party.

[4] Al-Shurouq (Egypt), October 24, 2013. The complaint against the show, filed in December 2012 by an MB attorney, demanded to take it off the air and revoke the license of the CBC channel. The court denied it in April 2013 on the grounds that the complainant was not directly harmed by the show, and after Mursi himself decided not to take legal measures against Al-Bernameg. Al-Ahram (Egypt), April 7, 2013.

[5], October 25, 2013. The original English has been lightly edited for clarity.

[6] A reference to demonstrations against the Muslim Brotherhood that took place in mid-March 2013 in front of the Brotherhood's headquarters in Cairo's Moqattam neighborhood. The demonstrators threw stones and shoes and clashed with Brotherhood activists and police for several days.

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