The recent show of Egypt’s top political satirist Bassem Youssef has the effect of a…
TV viewers in Egypt had waited impatiently for the return of the widely popular Bassem Youssef political satire show al-Bernameg (The Programme) after a three-month pause. And right on time, the show went on air on CBC channel on the evening of Friday 25 October. But Egyptians were in for a surprise, one that appeared to please very few. There was Youssef poking fun as he was used to, only this time the targets of his satire were the rival political forces in Egypt: the Islamists—in the minority—on one side, and the general public and military—in the wide majority—on the other. Predictably, none of them was pleased. It didn’t help that Youssef used some analogies that were deemed offensive or sexually explicit. The final result: the show had the effect of a bombshell.
Controversy—and anger—raged through the Egyptian community, to the point that, less than a day after the show, several legal complaints were lodged against Youssef.
Watani was no exception. Our newsroom saw heated discussions as different viewpoints were aired, or rather stormed. Finally, most fell silent as the mental duel centred between our Robeir al-Faris and Maged Samir. “Why don’t you each write your viewpoint?” we in the newsroom asked them. They willingly obliged.
The view according to Faris:
Out of touch
Al-Bernameg gained wide viewership during the Islamist rule which the Egyptian masses in their millions, together with the military, managed to overthrow last July. Youssef had then made it his business to scathingly criticise the former Islamist president Muhammad Mursi, Islamist leaders, and the Islamist media. That went down very well with the Egyptian public who felt that the show talked in their collective tongue and rightly expressed their utter rejection of the Islamist regime. Al-Bernameg became ‘their’ show.
So why is a large portion of Egyptians today offended at Youssef’s recent show? Why did he suddenly cease to be ‘their’ voice, his attitude no longer resonating with their sentiments?
As I see it, Youssef’s controversial show came at a critical time, only a few days after the horrendous killing of five individuals, including two children, and injury of 18 during the random drive-by shooting at the church in Warraq, Giza. The crime has been attributed to Islamists, and the general mood in Egypt is one of deep sorrow and anger. Viewers never expected Youssef to put both sides on equal footing: the vicious Islamist terrorists and the military who are fighting them. It doesn’t help that Islamists in Sinai are killing Egyptian soldiers and policemen there by the day.
Egyptians saw Youssef as the white knight who stood by the underdog and railed against those in authority. Now, he appeared to defend the Islamists; were the Islamists who have embittered our lives with their savage terrorism and chaos ‘underdogs’? Why didn’t Youssef bother to deride claims of Islamist ‘peaceful, unarmed protest’ which all Egyptians know first hand to be but a pack of lies?
For near the entire duration of the show Youssef scorned the increasing popularity of Colonel General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, whom the majority of Egyptians now see as the hero who delivered them from the hateful Islamist rule. In this context, the episode sent a number of implicit messages which sided with the Islamists. Among these was the constant repetition of the term “coup” whenever he referred to the 30 June Revolution. This is a word Egyptians find offensive, since it appears to effectively sideline their role in overthrowing the Islamist regime, and credit the military alone with doing so. He defended the US support of the Islamists, and mocked the curfew imposed by the interim government to limit and combat terrorism. He criticised the closure of the Islamist TV channels, conveniently forgetting to mention how vocally they had incited hate. And all this was cloaked in obscene rhetoric and indecent insinuations.
But let there be no mistake, I am absolutely against taking al-Bernameg off air. Free media means rival opinions have every right to be equally expressed, which I am here doing.
The view according to Samir:
The do-it-yourself- dictator
How could Egyptians make a 180-degree turnaround when it comes to scorning the ruling regime? As far as Youssef’s show is concerned, the public appears to have shifted from extreme left to extreme right. Perhaps they were shocked at Youssef whom they had seen to be expressing their views against the Islamists, and who suddenly appeared to have betrayed them by scorning their veneration of the national hero, Colonel General Sisi and his decisive role in overthrowing the Islamists.
Or maybe Egyptians have become Ikhwanophobic—Ikhwan is Arabic for [Muslim] Brothers (MB); they take any criticism of the current regime or the military to be an attempt to bring back the power of the MB.
Following the January 2011 Revolution and the rise and fall of Mursi and the Islamists, Youssef’s al-Bernameg appealed to a very large portion of viewers. Friday night—the time of the show—would see Egypt’s streets empty but for a few passersby; everyone was glued to their TV sets to watch the show. Youssef rose to the rank of valiant national hero who put the national sentiment against Mursi into words that scorned him and highlighted all the obvious weaknesses in his personality, clan (the MB), political party and government.
Today, the swing has come full turn; Youssef no longer is the sarcastic, faithful national hero of the masses; he no longer ‘represents’ them in the media. Why so? Because he criticised the new rulers whom the public adulate. Now he is seen as a traitor and US agent. Some even went to the point of alleging that Youssef is a ‘dormant MB element’, the evidence being his criticism of the army and his betrayal of the 30 June Revolution which overthrew Mursi.
There can be no better gift to any ruler to attain ‘proficiency in the art of despotism’ than a nation which idolises him. This is just what Youssef has been attempting to say. The ever-increasing numbers of Sisi’s fans could very well make an idol out of him. No one can deny the great role he and the army undertook to bring to a happy ending the massive 30 June Revolution. Nor can we make light of the harmony between the Egyptian army and the Egyptian people. But we ought to realise that the army and Sisi have carried out, and are still faithful to their national duty.
Immunising any ruling regime or leader against criticism or sarcasm, however just and responsible they are, will eventually lead to silencing the voices that may rightly or wrongly criticise them. We should put an end to the notion long entrenched in our Egyptian conscious of the president who is father, leader, inspirer and protector. We should strive to reject the plan to ‘create our own dictator’.
Quick recipe for a Do-it-Yourself Dictator:
A whiff of fatherhood, a hint of national pride, a trickle of leadership, a cup of inspiration, and a lot of fresh, potent leadership. Before you know it, there’s your homegrown dictator. Now, who stands to lose?
1 November 2013