Bassem Youssef is not new to controversy. He’s been the number one most watched and most talked about TV persona in Egypt during Mohammed Morsi’s presidential term. Amidst pro-army nationalist atmosphere with great sympathy and admiration of the masses to defense minister, General Abdel Fatah El-Sissi, Youssef made a bold entrance, hinting subtly that his satire wouldn’t stop at anybody.
The nation has been divided after Friday’s premiere of Bassem Youssef’s new season of El Bernameg “The Program”. In the episode, Youssef mocked the ousted president Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood leaders and -more importantly- the pro-military fervor infecting Egyptians and the media personalities that are backing El-Sissi along with Egypt’s armed forces. El-Sissi, has grown immensely popular since the military’s ouster of Morsi on 3 July following days of mass protests against Islamist rule.
Youssef boldly poked fun at the idea of what the events that led to June 30th might be called. He toyed with the idea of whether it was a coup, a revolution or an uprising simply backed by the nation’s army. He ridiculed media personalities and Egyptian politicians dismissing or supporting the idea of a “coup” taking place in Egypt.
Youssef was more outrageous in making fun of the country’s interim President Adly Mansour, posting photos of him not smiling and comparing him to previous presidents with a “better laugh”. He also unleashed his comedic power as he ridiculed the Sissi-worship that is sweeping Egyptians, especially Egyptian women, who announce their love for the powerful general in downright romantic and even sexual ways. Youssef tried to cross the thin line between political support and creating a deity that can’t be touched.
In one segment, Youssef focused on a hilarious Egyptian Sissi-adoring method, selling cupcakes and chocolates adorned with the general’s face across the country’s candy shops. A pastry chef brought Youssef a tray of Sissi-cupcakes.
“What you don’t like El-Sissi?” the chef asked.
“Give me all of them,” Youssef yelped back, in reference to the country’s hardcore nationalism that considered any attempt of criticizing the transitional government or president.
In another segment, Youssef inquired about Egypt’s former president with pictures of Muslim Brotherhood leaders Mohammed Badie and Khairat el-Shater popping on screen before it finally ended with Morsi’s photo, pointing at Egyptian’s inside jokes on who the actual leader of Egypt was during Morsi’s term and how he was controlled by superior MB leaders.
Youssef made a daring move when he asked “Who’s Egypt’s current president?”
The crowd laughed as El-Sissi’s photo sprang on screen, in reference to who’s actually in power as opposed to the actual (interim) president’s powers and duties.
Bassem Youssef ended the episode in a more serious tone, stating the program’s opinion on the current Egyptian political scene. He said that he wasn’t with the people who called him and “infidel” and publicly called for his imprisonment and murder. At the same time he wasn’t with hypocrisy and pharaoh-ism. He publicly named his concerns:
“We are afraid that fascism in the name of religion will be replaced with fascism in the name of nationalism.”
El Bernameg premiered to a nation-wide array of criticism and praise. Bassem Youssef trended on twitter, with activists from both Islamist and Liberal parties either condemning him or encouraging him toward a more courageous career.
“Bassem Youssef is the nation’s freedom thermometer. Whenever he is silenced, one should only expect the worst for freedom of speech,” Sameh Mashaly updated his Facebook status.
On the other hand, renowned Egyptian actress Ghada Abdel-Razek twitter-bashed Bassem Youssef calling him a loser and accusing him of being jealous of El-Sissi’s popularity that -according to her- pulled the rug from under his feet.
Pro-Morsi supporters also criticized Youssef for not being brave enough in slamming the military-backed government as he did with the Islamist government previously. Accusations of him being anti-Islam, an apostate and naming him a “clown” still resurfaced on most Islamist Facebook pages and twitter accounts.
Bassem Youssef’s El Bernameg airs every Friday on CBC at 10 pm Egypt time (EET).
Written by: Jaylan Salah
Bassem Youssef’s new season of El Bernameg