First Published: 2014-02-08

‘All roads lead to Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’ in eyes of Bassem Youssef
Egypt's top satirist returns skewer public and media for lionizing army chief widely expected to be country's next president.
Middle East Online

Marshal and freedom of speech... Tough beginning for Bassem

CAIRO - Egypt's top satirist returned to television on Friday for the first airing of his show since it was pulled three months ago, and he skewered the public and media for lionizing the army chief widely expected to be the country's next president.

In taking aim at the frenzy of support for Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Bassem Youssef went further in his criticism of the army-backed political order than anyone else currently allowed on the airwaves.

Pledging not to discuss political issues that got his wildly popular show "The Program" yanked by private broadcaster CBC in November, Youssef showed that all topics in the country lead back to Sisi, who overthrew Islamist President Mohamed Morsi last year.

After attempting in a mock game show to explore subjects ranging from cooking to sports, Youssef asked with exasperation, "So what are we going to talk about?"

"There's not another subject to talk about," he concluded, adding that he would flip through Egyptian television to find another topic.

This led to a montage of Egyptians of all ages and various backgrounds, from talk show hosts to belly dancers, expressing their love for Sisi. When the clip ended, the heart surgeon-turned-comedian stuck a fake gun to his temple.

Youssef first poked fun at Egyptians for idolizing Sisi three months ago in the first episode of the show broadcast since Morsi's ouster. The CBC channel then suspended his show, saying it had caused discontent and violated editorial policy.

Since then, a state crackdown on Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood has escalated and expanded to include other critics of the army-backed interim government. The Brotherhood was declared a terrorist organization in December.

Several foreign journalists have been charged with aiding Egyptians belonging to a "terrorist organization," demonstrating that simply interviewing or interacting with members of the Brotherhood could earn reporters jail time.

State and private media speak with reverence about Sisi and cast anyone who dares critique him, including Youssef, a traitor.

Sisi is expected to announce his candidacy for president any day and to win by a landslide in an election due within six months. Many compare him to Gamal Abdel Nasser, the charismatic colonel who led a coup against the monarchy in 1952.

In Friday's program, broadcast by privately owned MBC Masr, Youssef promised to continue his show. "We won't fear anyone," he said as the unmistakable profile of Sisi appeared behind him.

"It's better we don't say anything about him," he said quickly. "That's not fear, that's respect."

There is no need for political satire, he then told the audience, because "the world is stable and everything is stable in the country."

In the seven months since Morsi's ouster, hundreds of his supporters have been killed by security forces and thousands have been jailed.

Bombings and assassinations of security officials have spread from the Sinai Peninsula to cities including Cairo as the state struggles to tame militant violence. At least 250 police have been killed in militant attacks since Morsi was overthrown.

As in the episode broadcast before his show was pulled, Youssef did not touch on the bloody events of recent months.

"He again focused on extreme forms of admiration and over-exultation ... when it comes to Sisi, but there is also a subtle criticism of Sisi himself," Egyptian political commentator Bassem Sabry said after the show.

Youssef, who has drawn inspiration from U.S. comedian Jon Stewart, rose to fame with a satirical online show after the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

His popularity skyrocketed when his TV program took aim at Morsi, drawing the ire of his government. Youssef was investigated on allegations of insulting Islam and the president. Critics of the Morsi government saw this as an attempt to stifle dissent. The charges were ultimately dropped.

Egypt's army-backed leaders now face even harsher criticism from local and international human rights groups.

Whether Youssef will be allowed to stay on air if he keeps up his sharp commentary was another topic of the broadcast.

"Second episode?" Youssef asked before bursting into laughter.

 

Iraqi Kurds may postpone referendum in return for concessions

Assad says no Syria ties for countries backing rebels

Rouhani says top priority is protecting nuclear deal from US

Iraqi-Arab Gulf rapprochement makes headway

In Egypt, Syrian refugees recreate Syria

In African tour, Sisi seeks to rebuild ties, address security and water concerns

Syria’s transition scenarios for future rounds of talks

Dubai real estate market sets the pace for renewed growth in the GCC

German-Turkish intellectual held at Ankara’s request

Jordan’s municipal elections marred by deaths, riots

Russia doubts IS claim of stabbing attack in northern city

Turkey slams 'arrogant' German reaction to Erdogan poll call

Police confirm Finland 'terror attack'

Spain hunts suspects as IS claims attack

Aid project helps Syria refugees feel at home in Jordan

Lebanese army launches anti-IS offensive on Syria border

UN demands access to Yemen ports

Low-cost attacks a new reality for Europeans

Forces of Libya's Haftar say commander wanted by ICC in detention

Yemen rebels urged to free political commentator

Iranian footballer breaks silence over ban for playing Israelis

Erdogan meddles in German politics

IS fighters almost encircled in Syrian desert

For Israel, White House ties trump neo-Nazis and antisemitism

Israel freezes implementation of settlement law

Saudi Arabia installing cranes at Yemen ports

13 dead, 100 injured in two Spanish seaside city attacks

Iran reform leader ends hunger strike

Van ploughs through pedestrians in Barcelona terror attack

13 killed in Barcelona van attack

Iraq acknowledges abuses in Mosul campaign

Netanyahu under fire for response to US neo-Nazism

Israel to free high-profile suspects in money laundering probe

Spanish police shut down jet-ski migrant smugglers

Syrian actress, activist Fadwa Suleiman dies in Paris

Israeli court extends detention for Islamic cleric over ‘incitement’

UAE to provide $15 million a month to Gaza

Sudan's Bashir 'satisfied' with Nile dam project

US-backed rebels say American presence in Syria to last ‘decades’

Tunisian clerics oppose equal inheritance rights for women

Israel strikes almost 100 Hezbollah arms convoys in 5 years

UN hopes for eighth round of Syria talks before year’s end

LONG READ: How Syria continues to evade chemical weapons justice

Civilians killed in US-led raids on Raqa

Qatari pilgrims begin flooding into Saudi by land