Egypt and Political Satire


Will political satire survive in Egypt? Since January 2011, satirist Bassem Youssef has become Egypt’s most popular comedian. He has poked fun at nearly every one of Egypt’s political elite, and his merciless, biting jokes about ex-president Morsi’s poor performance and bad English have earned him million of fans – and many enemies. Last April, he was briefly arrested for “insulting the president, denigrating Islam and disturbing the peace,” a move that created a global outcry, and even a tense Twitter exchange between the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and the Egyptian presidency.

 Now Mr. Youssef is back after a four-month hiatus, and in his show last Friday he poked “equal fun” at the nationwide fan frenzy that has grown around Egypt’s Defense Minister, General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, in recent months. Mr. Youssef imitated the general’s soft- spoken words and alluded to his rumored political ambition. It did not take long for angry, knee-jerk responses to flood the Egyptian media. By Saturday, four complaints had been lodged against Youssef. Interestingly, CBC, the satellite network that aired the program has reversed its previous supportive stance that it took during Morsi’s era, and released a statement late Saturday, distancing itself from Bassem Youssef, and acknowledging that audience reactions after the show were “largely disapproving.”

 So what has changed? Has the public really changed its mind and turned against the popular satirist? Why has the network washed its hands from its own program? The true answers to these questions are linked to two more questions: do Egyptians really believe their uprising on June30 was a revolution? And how do they perceive the trail of events that started in January 2011, and continue to unfold in the present?

 In a previous piece about Bassem Youssef, I explained that the uproar against Mr. Youssef has religious, social, and political dimensions. Ironically, the ousting of ex-president Morsi pushed aside the religious criticism; many Islamists did not like the episode, not because of its sexual hints or mocking, but mainly because, in their opinion, Youssef was holding back, and refrained from criticizing Sissi directly as he used to do with Morsi. The debate about whether poking fun at people is religiously legitimate has now been sidelined and substituted with equality in satire as the core problem as far as the Islamists are concerned; they expected their archenemy, General Sissi, to be “humiliated” just as Morsi had been.

 Nonetheless, the social dimension is still valid. The recent complaints contain phrases such as “undermining the honor and dignity of Egypt and its people,” “discrediting General Sissi,” and “mocking national sentiment.”  All of these statements indicate that some Egyptians, not just Islamists are still suffering from a deeply flawed hypocritical trait that forbids self-criticism and welcomes selectivity and bias. Many complain against the sexual innuendos mentioned in Youssef’s program; somehow, the same people who had applauded these innuendos when they were mentioned under Morsi’s rule, now find them grossly unacceptable. To add further irony to the whole saga, CBC, the same channel that aired Youssef’s program, ran daily broadcasts over the final week of the holy month of Ramadan of adverts of upcoming movies that contained overt, frankly vulgar, sexually suggestive content, and none of those nationalists has made a single written complaint. It seems sexually suggestive content is halal when it is used as a tool for public distraction, but forbidden if it is used against the Defense Minister, who is officially not ruling the country “yet.” Perhaps some Egyptians felt uncomfortable watching “Gamaheer,” the character invented Mr. Youssef to represent the general public, because they saw in her their own struggle, fear, and hypocrisy.

 General Sissi’s rising popularity is now the core political issue behind this current dispute. His popularity may be baffling to many in the West; however, he has clearly managed to win the hearts and minds of many Egyptians, not just by his soft, appealing words, but also because he has displayed what the people perceive as good leadership skills, the very skills Morsi lacked. Should this popularity shield Sissi from criticism?

 The answer lies in what Egyptians really wanted when they poured into the streets on June 30. If they truly wanted to overthrow Islamist fascism, then they should repudiate an equally oppressive national fascism, and resist the temptation to elevate Sissi to a special, sacrosanct level. Those who shudder from labeling June 30 as a coup should be the first to embrace Bassem Youssef and understand that his satire is in no way undermining Egypt or General Sissi; in fact, it is the opposite; it is a testimony that Egypt is heading in the right direction.

 There are people who are working hard to turn the clock back and revive the era of one-man regimes. That will not happen; we cannot ignore our revolution and erase it from our memory. If Sissi is truly a smart leader, then he should ignore the slimy praise, and remember that his applauders will be the first to turn against him, if for one reason or another his fortunes change in the future.

 During Morsi’s tenure, Bassem Youssef has expressed the desire for Morsi to appear on his program. Maybe the military leadership should take the hint; there were rumors that Ahmed Ali, the  military spokesman may appear on the show, so why not make this rumor a reality? It would be the best message Sissi could send to his supporters and opponents. It would assert that military leadership is not above anyone else, and that such leadership is willing to reinvent itself as a progressive, confident institution capable of leading the country to a better future.

 I do not know if political satire will survive in Egypt or not. I hope it will. Some have blamed Youssef for rushing his return, suggesting that his timing was bad, and that he should have waited a bit longer. I think they are wrong; Youssef’s return is a tough test of our desire for democracy. We Egyptians should not let our profound insecurity control our mindset. In January 2011, we demanded bread, justice, and equality. This must include equality in satire. No one should be exempted from mocking, even the beloved man in uniform, no matter how worshipped he is.

About nervana111

Blogger and Commentator on Middle East issues
This entry was posted in Diary of Aak, Egypt, June30 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Egypt and Political Satire

  1. beamout says:

    This news demonstrates what I have been harping on for months now. The June 30 were/are/will be the most useful of all useful idiots.

    Truly despicable how Egyptians have no dignity or self-respect. That is why they worship their elite military rule and their lack of dignity is utterly abhorrent. That is the reason why the international community cannot even pity the Egyptians.

    Time will prove that June 30 was no revolution but the glee (satanic dance) of the elites whose survival was preserved by the June 30 useful idiots and cemented by the crimes against humanity at Rabaa and other squares.

  2. nedhamson says:

    Reblogged this on Ned Hamson Second Line View of the News and commented:
    Laughter has begun the toppling of many regimes – when you try to stifle it, it turns to anger and… Do you job – get things done – no laughs, no anger

  3. beamout says:

    From Nervana’s twitter:

    @_amroali: I don’t understand Brotherhood smiles in arrest photos; I don’t understand photographing them with police at times posing in it

    The likes of you not understand because the vanity and arrogance is nurtured in your hearts. And one does not need to be an MB, salafi or a liberal to understand why they smile. One only needs to keep in check one’s idiotic sarcasm and strive for humility in order to understand.

    They smile for hundreds of reasons, the most prevalent one is because they are truly SINCERE. But the hearts stuffed with vanity and sarcasm will never understand true SINCERITY.

    Egyptians do not deserve the MB and the MB does not deserve the Egyptians. Still, the Egyptians do deserve their crimes against humanity military rule. They want it, they stuff their hearts with it and quite rightly do not deserve anything better.

    I do wonder is your sarcastic heart able to feel true SINCERITY:

  4. nervana111 says:

    How you define someone label a whole nation as “spineless and opportunistics” then religiously keep following its politics? If you hate Egyptians, then why not stop following their affairs? I strongly recommend that you follow other blogs that fit with your ideology and superior mind.

  5. beamout says:

    Nervana,

    Actually, if you carefully read what you write between the lines, you’d realize I say the same thing as you, only without resorting to your essential sugarcoating. You criticize everybody in Egypt through the shrouded, sugarcoated linguistics, with a euthanized, politically correct attitude in your style. I do the same thing, but in a direct, unadulterated manner.

    So in all honesty, your blog fits nicely with my ideological slant. If it did not, I definitely would not be reading it.

    I do feel that you could be even a much better analyst. I do however, feel as if you are repressing yourself, given that you are living under the military rule that committed crimes against humanity. If however, you are not repressing yourself, meaning that what you write is exactly what you feel, than you are definitely dishonest (insincere), and you only fool yourself and some gullible readers in the process.

  6. nervana111 says:

    By keep insulting, and then coming back to my blog audaciously claiming that we share the same ideology, you have proven that we share nothing. So go and search for another blog that fit with your bipolar ruddiness.

  7. beamout says:

    Oh my, now you cannot even hide your crudeness.

    Me insulting? LOL!!! :) :) :) For telling you that ultimately you could be a better blogger. I’d say shame on you, but alas you have no shame. Sarcasm has corroded your heart to the core and made you woefully arrogant. You cannot even properly defend (or indeed speak against) your military and general sissy.

    We share criticism, but I am not a hypocrite like you because I properly criticize, unlike you, who sugarcoats everything.

    Meeh, you are a typical example of someone afraid of criticism. Which proves that you do not want to be better than you already are. Go and search for some kibr to nourish your sarcastic heart.

  8. nervana111 says:

    No wonder you cannot see how crazy psychotic you are. Go and write what you want,and praise your Gods the Brotherhood, but leave my blog alone, Your patronising, bipolar, crazy comments will be welcomed by them. You are the perfect example of obscene Kibr, and a shame to Islam.From now on, your replies will be trashed. Goodbye.

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