Egypt’s Bassem Youssef was much more than a mere comic, or an entertainer: as the host of a weekly fake news programme, he was an integral cog in the remaking of Egypt. Youssef exerted a tangible effect on the national consciousness, helping to set the tone of public debate by determining what was appropriate, and, more importantly ‘inappropriate’ for discussion.
That’s why private Egyptian Satellite channel CBC’s recent removal of Youssef from the air is so very worrying. Expert on Egyptian satire, Jonathon Guyer, explains that it was his first episode of “El Bernameg” that was just a little too bold,
“In the first episode, Bassem Youssef delicatedly criticized the Egyptian military and the cult surrounding the chairman of the armed forces, Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil al-Sisi,” … “Bassem Youssef was eating cupcakes with al-Sisi’s face on them and making jokes about how many he should buy to prove his patriotism.”
-Interview with Carol Hill, Public Radio International
It was too much for CBC, which received complaints from viewers, and too much for the Government, which, in all likelihood, exerted the pressure on the channel to make the move.
Popular as Youssef is, or perhaps was, this isn’t about how well liked one entertainer is.
Egyptians shouldn’t demand Bassem Youssef’s return merely because he was funny (although that does help) or because he was irreverent (though that is refreshing) No, Youssef must return because what he can do is supremely important. He speaks frankly, and that is worth far more than an hour of light weekly entertainment. Sadly, it seems that many Egyptians themselves have forgotten this.
Bassem Youssef must return to the air though he may be (laughably) an ‘American sympathiser’ , or extremely offensive, or even incorrect in his critique of Egypt’s love of the military. What matters is that he, and by extension, all Egyptians, must have the right to be wrong.
Furthermore, no government should be so touchy as to demand political correctness all the time. We saw the same heightened sensitivity to mockery, in former President Muhammad Mursi’s Government. However, it seems that the truth that no man is exempt from a joke, is rendered irrelevant when the leader is well liked. This is a more than slightly alarming double standard on the part of well-meaning Egyptians, and by Military Commander Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Youssef is taking more than a bunch of silly jokes with him, press freedom is going out the window with his expulsion from the airwaves.
So, he must come back, as quickly as possible.
Ultimately, this isn’t about Bassem Youssef at all, it’s about all Egyptians, and with Bassem Youssef off the air, it’s Egypt that will suffer.