Satirist Bassem Youssef pulled from air until after Egyptian Elections
By Molly Hofsommer
Just this week, Dubai-based and Saudi-owned MBC Broadcasting group announced that it would suspend Bassem Youssef’s popular satirical news program until after Egyptian Presidential Elections. In a decision announced by the Broadcasting group, Youssef’s Al Bernameg (The Program) is being withheld from broadcast until May 30th “to avoid influencing Egyptian voters’ opinion and public opinion.” The suspension extends an existing broadcasting break of Al Bernameg for Youssef’s seasonal vacation which would have taken him off air until May 9th. With the suspension, MBC explained that it is “keen on respecting the electoral process” in Egypt.
This is not the first time that Youssef has faced challenges broadcasting his television show. The former cardiac surgeon, whose program is similar to Jon Stewart’s Daily Show in the U.S., rose to popularity during President Mohamed Morsi’s regime. His comedic criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist extremists quickly drew the attention of both his audience and his targets. At one point the Morsi administration cancelled Al Bernameg citing it as “a threat to public security” and “insulting religion,” going so far as to launch an official investigation into Youssef himself. The investigation resulted in charges of insulting the president and Islam, for which he turned himself in to the prosecutor’s office and paid his bail.
Youssef’s weekly show returned to the airwaves in October 2013, following the July coup backed by army Chief General Abdel Fattah El Sisi, which ousted Morsi. Upon his return, Youssef continued his satirical lampooning, this time focusing on the hypocrisies of the ruling military-backed government. He mocked the public’s zeal for the army despite the regime’s violentcrackdown, and warned, “[f]ascism in the name of religion will be replaced by fascism in the name of patriotism and national security.”
At a time when few dared to criticize Sisi, Youssef aimed many of his jabs at the widely popular retired field marshal who now is the frontrunning presidential candidate. Al Bernameg was once again being pulled from the air for poking fun at the state’s powerful military. After Youssef’s most recent three-month absence, the satirist returned to the network with a focus on the heavy censorship that has stifled independent journalists’ ability to cover differing viewpoints, as well as his own ability to produce and host his show.
Since the 2013 ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, an upsurge of Egyptian nationalism has run through the country —and with it, a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and any opposition to the nation’s new military-backed leadership. The current military-backed government has targeted individuals critical of its authority or of its leader, Sisi. Hatem Abul Nour was sentenced for impersonating an army officer over the phone, Ahmed Abu Deraa was arrested on charges of spreading false news about the army, and earlier this month a farmer was sentenced to a year in prison after dressing a donkey in a military style cap and covering the animal in a poster of Sisi.