Few comedians in Egypt long history of cinema and visual entertainment that exceeds over 100 years has attained in their careers what Satirist and show host Bassem did in the past 3 years. From the humble beginnings as online YouTube channel host to a world renowned comedian unattained by any Arabic speaking comedians including the legendary late Fouad Al Mohandes, Ismail Yaseen , Waheed Seif and current Adel Imam, Samir Ghanem and Ahmed Helmy. He attained that success while being a Satirist that they couldn’t do with being movie stars which is international stardom. In a matter of 3 years he attained a solid reputation of hosting the Middle East most popular TV show Al Bernameg (The Program) which is the Egyptian version of John Stuarts’ The Daily Show only with almost tenfold of the popularity that Stuart is enjoying in the USA.
The Satirist has defied a lot of taboos, stereotypes and created what many other comedy talk shows failed to do with a new presentation and program that features comedic scenes, interviews and music shows. The formula was a great success and has shifted Bassem Youssef to a household name that most only other comedians would dream about.
Bassem who was a practicing cardiologist has quit medicine and started his satirist career with an online YouTube show before the revolution called B+ and it was an excellent success online but the real start was after the Jan25th revolution with his hit Show AL Bernameg which is enjoying currently its third consecutive season. He received multiple awards and recognitions including Time Magazine naming him as among ” 100 most influential people in the world” and Foreign Policy magazine has selected him to be of the “100 Leading Global Thinkers”. He was also awarded the 2013 International Press Freedom Award among other accolades .
Big Part of Youssef’s success is that in Egypt nowadays many of the so called icons of the January 25th revolution have fallen from grace due to their own contradictions, actions or due to exposed documents or recordings that has revealed that they are not what they have always claimed to be. The list is getting longer by the day and included prominent names like Dr. Mohamed El Baradei, Ayman Nour and many others who presented themselves as icons of change and democracy and failed in all tests. . This list is not counting of course the countless leaders who has been implicated in acts of violence or incitement for terrorism including all the Terrorist Muslim Brotherhood leaders and their lackeys like Alaa Sadek. Amidst this atmosphere the younger rebellious Egyptians were lacking a leader or a role model whom they believe can challenge the norm and the regime. Youssef presented himself as that model by taking no firm position against the violence practiced by the Muslim Brotherhood and associates post the June30th revolution.
He started that by playing the devil’s advocate and questioning it being a revolution despite that 33 million has participated in ousting Morsi’s regime that day. He seemed to be seeking a different message regardless of valid or sensible it is. After all , his major success in Season 2 was based on the tomfoolery and blunders of Morsi and his ill fated regime including his weekly nearly comical speeches as well as video clips from extremist Islamist TV networks. Now Morsi’s is gone and the controversy and the rich material that he provided for a whole year is gone too. So in hope of targeting an audience filled with high expectations he became too controversial in making sure that he flows against the current regardless if it is right or wrong. When there is some sort of unanimous feeling towards certain issues or certain groups like Muslim Brotherhood, he chooses to move against that feeling. One would say that he is against populism and that would be great if that is the case but there issues and timings in the history of nations that choices are too clear to miss and the lines are sometimes quite visible. Though he is entirely entitled to make any choices he likes, he is not entitled to label his opponents as fascists or bully them in his weekly shows. In many cases , Youssef bullies others and provokes animosities with public figures intentionally just to stir controversies. He may have abused the power of the microphone and TV presence many times but his diehard fans don’t see it that way. Nevertheless, they may need to understand that what goes around comes around and they can be one day in the same position of the person who is getting bullied. At the same time, they cannot expect the bullied person not to react according to their own choice towards Bassem’s mockery because it is not by any means a one way game.
Furthermore, Youssef fell in the same trap that legendary comedian Mohamed Sobhi did years ago. That trap is taking himself too seriously sometimes and becoming a preacher of morality then an entertainer and comedian. Those who fall in that trap of self-righteousness put themselves in a line of fire on a personal and professional level. Once they cross the line from entertainment to preaching then they are doomed to walk the walk or they will be heavily criticized for their personal behavior everywhere they go. Sobhi insists on ending most of his recent plays and TV series in a melodramatic manners that usually contradicts the comedy pace of the entire show and usually ends in a Greek tragedy type of ending thus losing the replay ability value of most of his recent work.. It was never the message of a comedian to change the world or society but actually try to mock the social and political situations for people to think for themselves and change it.
Youssef lack of political historical knowledge:
Once Youssef started to believe in himself as the messiah of change and a prophet of democracy he started to write a series of articles that reflects his beliefs and displayed limited political knowledge. On October 27th 2013 he published an article in Egyptian daily Al Shorouk that displays a lot of contradictions and a lacks historical accuracy and political knowledge comparing American politics with Egyptian one. In his astounding article he claimed that the Republican Party is being viewed by many Americans as the party of bigots and racists against Muslims, Arabs, Black and Latinos equally which is a fallacy in the article. A little research from Bassem’s side would have concluded that the Republican Party which established in 1854 by “Anti-slavery” activists in the Northern States. The first president nominated by the Republican Party was President Abraham Lincoln who abolished slavery and waged a war against the Confederates States that rejected and defied his decision. The Party abolished slavery under Abraham Lincoln, defeated the Slave Power (Slaveorcacy) , and gave the black population their voting rights during the Reconstruction in the late 1860s. Thus, the Republican Party didn’t just change the United States but actually changed the whole world in consequence as abolishment and human rights became a goal for all world nations and activists.
The current Republican Party is definitely a shadow of its own self and its great founders cannot be really compared by the current weak leadership which is taking the party down the drain since Ronald Reagan left office in January 1989. Nevertheless, Bassem’s shallow article has portrayed the Republican Party as if it is some Neo-Nazi party and very misleading to the Egyptian reader who simply would be misinformed about the history of the party. Aside from the previous misinformation, the party that he claimed is against Latinos and non-whites had its candidate George W.Bush receiving 44% from the Latino vote in the elections of 2004. While in the same article he was criticizing the shallowness of FOX News network, he could have done some more research himself in order not to be a shallow analyst.
Currently, many of Bassem Youssef’s fans are developing a syndrome of rejecting any criticism on him and rendering all his opponents or critics as anti-democracy and anti-freedom advocates which is an oxymoron that defeats the purpose of his preached democracy and tolerance. Democracy should hypothetically allow voicing a different opinion and hearing the other side especially when it concerns a public figure like Youssef. Many of Bassem Youssef diehard fans believe that they were godsend on a mission to defend everything he says and bashing all his critics as Bassem in their beliefs represents democracy. This embodiment of democracy in the form of one man regardless of his stature or importance is a grave mistake that has affected Youssef very popularity negatively. So in their mission to avoid creating new idols out of people and politicians as Bassem always claims to do in his program, they have unintentionally created one out of Bassem.
On the other hand, his diehard critics and haters have accused him with an endless list of accusations many of them are ridiculous. The accusations begin from conspiring against the Egyptian state in service of Western powers all the way to sending hidden messages during his show to hooligans and vandals.
Fewer numbers of Egyptians have treated Bassem Youssef as he should be which is as a comedian and satirist who tell jokes. Like all comedians and satirists some of his jokes will be funny others will be not. That’s as simple as it gets but unfortunately it is a minority that didn’t overreact towards his jokes and program. Many in Egypt still don’t know that satirists, talk show hosts and entertainers thrive on such controversies and many enjoy living them since it provides the necessary exposure and high ratings for their shows.
One of the traits that Youssef lacked in his show was the inability to learn from previous mistakes and actually insisting on repeating them at a time most of the Egyptian people are witnessing changes and learning through hard lessons through the year of the Islamist rule and many others. Insinuating or directly accusing that Egyptians are turning to fascists against Islamists is an oxymoron since it’s Islamists who were the actual fascists and aggressors who wanted to hold the country by the neck. Bassem was ironically one of their victims as he was sent to court by charges of attacking the Islamic faith as well as receiving death threats by extremists during Morsi’s era. While having the right to believe in whatever he says, Bassem still lives in the days that followed the Janurary 25th revolution and repeating tired old clichéd rhetoric that the public seems to have abhorred as a result of the wrong doings by those who carried these slogans in the past years. Apparently, he still doesn’t seem to care or comprehend that the moods of many Egyptians have changed dramatically in the past 3 years something that represents a chief failure in the message he is sending.
Accordingly, many in Egypt cannot fathom the vehement accusations of Bassem Youssef to those who criticize Islamists while he was the most ardent critic of their rule to the extent that many are attributing part of the success for the buildup of the June30th revolution to his program. Now many analyze that his calls for not criticizing them or labeling their critics as fascists is ridiculous and that Youssef is simply seeking attention and creating controversies.
Egyptians enjoy some of the most sarcastic and sharpest sense of humour among any nation on the planet only rivaled by Americans whose movies and sitcoms are mostly big hits in Egypt and the only ones that contend with the Egyptian comedies in the market. American comedians from Jack Lemon, Jerry Lewis passing through Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, Bill Murray , Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey all the way to Will Ferrell, Seth Rogen and Ben Stiller are household names of the cinema fans in Egypt for long decades. It was not a coincidence that a show based on the famous John Stuart The Daily Show in the USA would meet a great success in Egypt in a similar manner that the comedy movies did for years. The fact that Youssef is mimicking John Stuart style is even acknowledged by Bassem Youssef himself and both satirists were guests in each other programs in USA and Egypt. Egyptians sense of humour has sustained them through 7000 years of civilization and continues to be their salvation in times of crisis just like these days post the revolutions.
The only element that Bassem Youssef didn’t take into account that people are passionate about their leaders or heroes in Egypt and they will not highly tolerate sarcasm about them especially if they feel that they are either misunderstood or for the sake of making fun of them . An example of this is Bassem’s sarcasm from Field Marshall El Sisi passionate speeches from the populace. Another factor that Youssef didn’t take into account was that famous Egyptians sense of humour are currently almost out of order due to the wave of terrorism and violence that the country is suffering on the hands of Islamists.
Many don’t feel the sense of humour in criticizing the police and army at a time when a fully fledged war is being fought against terrorism in which hundreds of men in uniform has died and thousands others injured not counting the civilian casualties. The timing of such sarcasm couldn’t have been worse in many people’s opinion. Moreover, Youssef who was once held as a hero before June30th for understanding the suffering of the people’s and their constant pain under Morsi’s rule, he doesn’t seem to be understanding that at the current new season 3 of his show. He actually mocks most of the TV anchors, journalists and people that show concern of the current state of affairs.
While it is his complete right to mock these voices during this time of crisis, he and his fans have to accept the backlash and disdain from these people and others who don’t find the current situation in Egypt funny at all. To many Egyptians what Bassem is doing would be the equivalent if the Satirist TV show hosts like Conan O’Brian , Jay Leno , David Letterman or Jimmy Fallon making jokes about 9/11 terrorist attacks the next day on September 12th 2011 which of course never happened.
The Bassem Youssef Syndrome:
Bassem Youssef latest attempts to appear as a Martyr of Freedom is working among the diehard fans but many are not believing it since he is becoming are victim of his cult leader status his fans thrown at him. His fans are calling the jamming attempts on his show as inappropriate censorship while no evidence of governmental interference is available but his diehard fans continue to fuel that feeling. The fact is that current ailing government can’t fend for itself against the ferocious attacks by the Islamists propaganda machine Al Jazeerah. if they had the technology and will to jam or scramble any network then definitely the Qatari news network would take the first priority not a weekly comedy show.
It’s noteworthy to mention that the current unforgiving social media activist’s pressure is pushing many TV anchors and politicians to act as revolutionary-than-thou or democratic-than-thou attitudes which make them feel that they are the prophets of freedom who will preach it to the heathens. He is not the first to fall into this trap, many have preceded him into losing popularity rapidly due to radical revolutionary views like TV hostess Reem Maged , and host Yousry Fouda among others who lost their viewers after they lost touch with the majority of Egyptians . Alas, they’ve confined themselves in the circle of the sub-culture of the revolutionaries and preaching others about the blessings of the revolution and ignoring the plight of millions of Egyptians who suffer in their daily lives. Also most Egyptians know that the real martyrs of freedoms are currently not journalists, writers and show hosts but those who actually pay their lives fighting terrorism everyday in Sinai and all over the country for the sake of others to live that freedom.
It is a pity that a talent like Bassem is risking being a candle in the wind and enjoying his 15 minutes of fame instead of establishing to a much needed new school of satire and comedy that can pave the way for the rise of other comedic talents as well as generations of comedians who are able to entertain the masses. In fact, Egypt and the Middle East require dozens of shows like Bassem’s Al Bernameg. These shows may require hosts who are not just able to entertain the people but are capable of accepting criticism and getting educated themselves while hopefully avoiding living in a loop of time and preaching clichés’ as prophets of democracy simply because there is no sacred text for democracy for all to abide with and follow.