December 14, 2017

Bassem Youssef says team will meet challenge without self-censorship

Friday, January 10, 2014

Egypt’s top satirist prepares return

Bassem Youssef talks to reporters in Cairo yesterday.
Bassem Youssef talks to reporters in Cairo yesterday.
Bassem Youssef talks to reporters in Cairo yesterday.

Bassem Youssef, Egypt’s most popular satirist often compared to US comedian Jon Stewart, says his team is preparing to bring back their widely watched television show poking fun at politics in a country still beset by turmoil following a July military coup.

Private broadcaster CBC suspended the show, called The Programme in Arabic, last fall after the season’s first episode, which was highly critical of the military and the nationalist fervour after the popularly backed overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

With a military-backed interim government in place and sensitivities high, Youssef says his team of writers and comedians face a tough challenge. But they are not planning to hold back. “We never self-censor,” Youssef said in an interview from his Cairo studio. “It’s not what we say about the government or don’t say, it is how to make people laugh and have a good time. In times like these this is a huge challenge.

“If people laughed, if people think we are respecting their mentality that would be great. Given the circumstances, the panic, the violence, the hatred, the split (in the country), everybody wants you to say exactly what they want. It’s very difficult.”

CBC said the satirist had violated its editorial policy and contractual obligations, and that he upset Egyptian sensibilities by attacking “symbols of the state.”

Now, Youssef said, the plan is to bring back the whole team, which has been in Cairo reviewing scripts and getting ready to go on the air within a week’s notice — although they have yet to decide which channels’ offer to take up. He repeatedly declined to say what offers have come in from broadcasters eager to host a show once bracketed by long commercial breaks.

Youssef acknowledged initial episodes of the show’s third season upset some of his fans, but said their comic points had to be made.

“I wanted to tell the people, you know, this is not a tool to bring down regimes. We never thought of ourselves like this,” he said. “We were just, you know, cracking jokes about the status quo. And it’s a way to deal with our differences ... and I think it’s a very healthy cathartic way of freedom of expression.

“As a matter of fact, having a show like this reflects well on the government — that it allows something like this.” Youssef’s program often stirred controversies, making him the target of many legal complaints. Authorities investigated him over the last episode on charges of disrupting public order and insulting Egypt and military leaders.

His popularity peaked during Morsi’s rule, when he targeted him and his Islamist allies with weekly mockery for mixing religion and politics. Youssef also was briefly detained and released on bail under Morsi on accusations of insulting the president and Islam.

Herald with AP

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