Bassem Youssef Returns to TV: Will MBC Tolerate Him?
Published Monday, February 3, 2014
Cairo – On February 1, the Saudi-owned MBC Masr (Egypt) officially announced that Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef has joined its ranks, and that his show, “al-Bernameg,” will air on February 7.
In a 45-second promo, the surgeon-turned-comedian announced his return to TV and expressed his concern of being taken off the air again, as the words “beware of frequent stops” flashed across the screen.
Fans of the “Arab Jon Stewart,” as Youssef has been dubbed, do not know yet if this season will be the continuation of his third season – since only one episode of it aired on CBC – or will mark the launch of a fourth. The second episode of the third season was leaked on YouTube two months after CBC’s owner, Mohamed al-Amin, prevented its airing and terminated the channel’s contract with the comedian.
In a live February 1 interview on al-Hayat TV with journalist Amr al-Laithy, Youssef reiterated his political views without the kind of equivocation that most of his Egyptian colleagues have resorted to to avoid Egypt’s political storms. He confirmed his opposition to General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi’s presidential bid because “Egypt needs him more as army commander, and the army should not enter the political fray.”
Whoever is going to run against Sisi in the presidential elections, he added, will be competing with “the army and the Defense Ministry, and no one can compete on that level. I am afraid that the people might hate the army because of Sisi if he fails to fulfill their dreams, just like they hated religion because of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Youssef described the events of June 30, 2013 as a revolution, not a coup, but noted the downsides that followed this date, most notably new restrictions on freedom of the press and expression. After the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood, government-controlled media once again rose, representing the views of the security and intelligence agencies. He warned that “pressure will result in an explosion.”
He also said the June 30 Revolution saved him personally, because he was at the top of the list of people targeted under Mohamed Mursi’s rule, which he described as a failure.
Youssef’s interview with Laithy gave the latter the kiss of life in the media world after his absence from the screen since the June 30 Revolution. Laithy was one the most prominent journalists associated with the regime of the deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi and had worked as his adviser. Nevertheless, he managed to sign up with al-Hayat TV and appeared in the first episode of his show Bewodouh (Clearly) with Bassem Youssef.
Regarding the claim that Egypt is living in “a golden age of freedom after the June 30 Revolution,” Youssef said sarcastically, “Don’t you say what you want and I say what I want. Then it’s all good and dandy ... Aren’t you happy and content?” At this point, Laithy interrupted laughing: “Leave me out of this, I’m still in the first episode.” Youssef then replied, “Freedom is in good shape, my show will air on Friday, if it is not suspended, then freedom is in good shape.”
As for the fact that Youssef chose a non-Egyptian TV channel to broadcast his show, he said that MBC Masr operates inside Egypt and is subject to the rules of the Egyptian Media Production City. “Plus, I am filming the show inside Egypt. Foreign stations offered to broadcast my show, but I refused.”
They discussed the flood of accusations of betrayal and treachery leveled at the comedian. Youssef described the campaign as “a hysteria that must stop.” He invoked the religious edict issued recently by Sheikh Mazhar Shahin – without mentioning him by name -–which requires a man to divorce his wife if she is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egyptian Actress Ghada Abdel-Razek is Ready to Reconcile
During the same interview, Laithy showed a clip of Egyptian actress Ghada Abdel-Razek saying her dispute with Youssef is not personal, and that she was not angry with him because he made fun of her wig on his program. She said she was upset because he described the June 30 Revolution as a coup, though expressed her willingness to reconcile with him.
Abdel-Razek had attacked Youssef viciously, posting on Twitter: “Egypt is the Egyptian army, you traitors. Bassem Youssef, it’s obvious you are jealous of General Sisi because he stole the limelight from you.”
Laithy asked Youssef to respond after a commercial break, but the interview ended without further comment on the matter.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.