March 10, 2014
Banned satirist set on slating Egypt’s leaders
The ‘Jon Stewart of Cairo’ reappears a month after being pulled off the airwaves
Popular Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef said yesterday that he’ll take the military and the government it backs at their word that they were not behind the decision to take his weekly TV programme off the air, but he said it still doesn’t make them look “very nice.”
Youssef, often compared to Jon Stewart, spoke in a TV interview, his first televised appearance in Egypt since October. The private station CBC suspended his show after the season’s first episode, which was highly critical of the military and the nationalist fervour gripping the nation after a popularly backed coup that ousted Islamist leader Mohammed Morsi. The station said the satirist had violated its editorial policy and contractual obligations, and that he upset Egyptians sensibilities by attacking “symbols of the state.”
Government and presidential officials at the time said the decision was a private issue between Youssef and the station.
Youssef, whose show called The Programme mirrored Stewart’s The Daily Show, said he truly believes the military-backed government’s denials that it did not order the suspension but added that “at the end of the day, the regime doesn’t look very nice.” He denied he criticized the country’s powerful and popular military chief, General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who removed Morsi from office, but added: “Suppose I did? At the end of the day he is a person.”
“The message this would send is that you want to silence people,” he said. He said he hoped el-Sissi doesn’t run for the presidency, and that the people’s “love” for him doesn’t “spoil him.” El-Sissi has not ruled out he would run for president, and a large following is already urging him to nominate himself.
Youssef still held much of the criticism for the private station, saying it had used contractual pretexts to justify its decision. “This is a programme that will upset some people, please others, and others won’t care for it,” he said. “But you don’t have to be a custodian of the people.”
In the episode that was taken off the air, a pre-recorded program, Youssef said he asked authorities or the station to say it clearly if they considered that the programme harms Egypt. “I would have stayed home. But this would be a very bad sign for the country.”
Morsi and his Islamist allies were regular targets for jokes by Youssef, who came under litigation by the supporters of the now ousted president, and was briefly held before he posted bail. “The fact of the matter is after 30 episodes (under Morsi), the programme wasn’t stopped,” he told private ONTV station. “But it was (now) stopped after one episode.” He said it was upsetting because such “violent” reactions imply that the government and the military were “that fragile to be affected by the programme.”
Youssef also suggested that the suspension of the program could have been related to one of his producers’ family ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails. He said the day after the second episode was recorded, the father of his producer was detained on accusations that he supported the Brotherhood. “I am confused,” he said. “We keep saying that we won’t go back to the old ways. But this is worrying.”
Youssef took to task his once-loyal liberal fans for having the same low tolerance of criticism as his Islamist detractors under Morsi. He said there are a number of stations are already in talks with him to take his programme, but he was waiting to settle the legal dispute with CBC. Youssef said he hoped he would reach an agreement with an Egyptian, not a foreign station.