Egypt’s answer to Jon Stewart criticises governments past and present, prompting channel to distance itself from his politics
The Egyptian broadcaster CBC has distanced itself from its star satirist, Bassem Youssef, after he criticised both the army-backed government and the Islamist regime it succeeded in the first episode of his long-delayed new series.
Youssef’s widely watched show, which rose to global prominence last year for lampooning the former president, Mohamed Morsi, had been off air since before Morsi’s overthrow in July. Its return was anticipated as a litmus test for free speech in the post-Morsi era, in which few dare to criticise the army for fear of upsetting the authorities or alienating a largely pro-military audience.
Youssef’s production team said the series had been postponed after the death of his mother, but many feared that his prolonged absence from the airwaves was the result of censorship by the government or CBC.
On Friday night Youssef re-emerged with the first episode of his third series and took careful aim at most Egyptian factions. Youssef criticised the Morsi administration, whose prosecutors had interrogated him this spring. But he also questioned the actions of the current government and mocked the popular adulation of the army chief, General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.
“I definitely do not support the people who attacked us, accused us of heresy, had the gallows ready for us, and publicly demanded our arrest,” said Youssef, a heart surgeon whose shift to satire was inspired by the US comedian Jon Stewart.
“At the same time, I don’t support the hypocrisy, deification, pharoahisation and the repetition of the mistakes of the past 30 or even 60 years,” he added, in a veiled reference to the dictatorships of Hosni Mubarak, Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdel Nasser, a strongman era to which some Egyptians seek a return.
“What we fear is that fascism in the name of religion will be replaced by fascism in the name of patriotism and national security,” Youssef said.
As expected, the show sparked criticism from all sides of the political spectrum, especially from supporters of the army. At least four viewers filed legal complaints against Youssef, which could lead to a formal investigation.
A day later Youssef’s employers at CBC, who stood by him during similar barrages under Morsi, moved to distance themselves from his stance. “CBC will continue to be supportive of the basics of national sentiment and popular will and is keen on not using phrases and innuendos that may lead to mocking national sentiment or symbols of the Egyptian state,” said a CBC broadcaster in a statement on behalf of the channel’s board.
During the show Youssef appeared to predict the coming storm, in a skit that riffed on the theme of censorship. “Nobody will tell us what to say. We shall say what we want,” he deadpanned as a hand reached from beneath his desk and replaced his script with another.
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