Celebrated Egyptian satirist, Bassem Youssef, is to be investigated for allegedly insulting President Mohammed Mursi and undermining the president’s standing on his thrice weekly TV show.
Bassem Youssef has been called the ‘Jon Stewart of Egypt’ and simply aesthetically its not hard to see why, his show’s set looks remarkably similar to Stewart’s blue based backdrop and even if you don’t understand Arabic you can see the format is an unhidden copy. But don’t mind this, Bassem Youssef is very funny.
A quick scan of youtube and you can find interviews he’s done in English for, among others, CNN and the Wall Street Journal, and, if you’re interested, you can find a few of his shows subtitled. During the CNN interview, which took place just before Christmas, he was asked how his satire was going down with the people he was mocking “I think the president and everyone else are accepting it quite well”, he may want to take those words back now.
Though this ‘investigation’ doesn’t mean he’s being formally charged with anything it’s still a worry. Egypt’s media has been voicing concerns over Mr Mursi’s proposed constitution for a while, they say it could be used to stifle the freedom of the press. This is not the mention people who say it doesn’t protect well enough women or Christians in the country. In that same interview Bassem was asked what he thought of the constitution and his answer was surprisingly diplomatic – “The constitution itself…is not the biggest disaster but there are many articles with areas of a [sic] potential for abuse”.
It’s a good point, a constitution needs to be watertight, it needs to be un-abusable, otherwise its pointless. The main raison d’être of a constitution is to protect the rights of all and if it can’t then it needs to be looked at.
Its similar to the Article 28 debate that occurred in Tunisia last year – the article had said women were ‘complimentary’ to men and its potential for abuse could easily be seen. After reading an article I wrote in early september on the topic a Tunisian journalist tweeted me saying the article had been taken out – the discussion had prevailed.
Bassem Youssef is not the only one to have been threatened, the newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm said a complaint had been filed by Mr Mursi’s office accusing it of “circulating false news likely to disturb public peace and public security and affect the administration”.
The Tunisian example shows us that the free press is important for the upkeep of human rights. If Bassem Youssef or Al-Masry Al-Youm are truly threatened then the legitimacy of the government should be put into question. In one of his shows Bassem talked about Mursi’s sweeping power reforms, ones that gave Mursi huge personal power in government, with a picture of Mursi depicted as a Pharaoh to the right of Bassem himself (in typical Jon Stewart format). Mursi should be careful not to fulfill this prophecy himself.
BY: James Tennent