Iraq's new YouTube satirist

"Al-Bashir Show" is an irreverent take on Iraqi politics in a country where most media outlets are afraid of criticizing politicians.

al-monitor Ahmad al-Bashir, host of "Al-Bashir Show," poses in Baghdad, September 2014. Photo by Omar al-Jaffal.

Topics covered

youtube, sectarian conflict, jon stewart, iraqi politics, iraq, bassem youssef

Sep 16, 2014

The first episode of "Al-Bashir Show," hosted by Ahmad al-Bashir, has received nearly 84,000 views — and counting — barely two weeks after its posting on YouTube. That's a substantial number compared with programs by Iraqi TV channels on the video-sharing website. Bashir’s way of presenting his show is different from the rest of the Iraqi programs, since he uses stinging criticism and sarcasm to comment on politicians.

Bashir started as a field reporter, preparing documentaries; he also was a political talk-show host. Then in 2011, he thought about hosting what he called “political comedy” shows.

Bashir, who's living in Jordan, told Al-Monitor, “Around the end of 2011, I decided to turn to political comedy in my show 'Shako Mako' and it received broad acclaim in Iraq.”

Over the last couple of years, satirical programs became widely viewed. Some shows are broadcast by satellite channels, such as "Hajsa Online" presented by Ammar al-Waili, and the "M+ A.A Show" presented by Abdallah al-Sahlany, both on YouTube. Such programs are being rapidly downloaded on mobile phones and tablets, although some have political and sectarian objectives.

In a phone interview with Al-Monitor, Bashir expressed his satisfaction with these political comedy shows, saying, “Iraqis are tired of the classic way of expressing their problems; this is why they find comedy a more attractive way to stay up to date with politics.”

Bashir, who has about 17 men helping to produce his show, said, “Iraq will witness a good number of news satire programs.”

Most of the satellite channels in Iraq and the satirical programs they broadcast do not have the freedom to criticize politicians, out of fear of threats or simply because they are affiliated with a certain party or a political figure. In this context, Bashir said, “I was never directly pressured when I worked with certain channels,” adding, “However, each satellite channel has its own policy and agenda to follow. I was committed to a large extent [to the channel’s policy] and this is one of the reasons that pushed me to produce my own show.”

Although "Al-Bashir Show" is being broadcast on Al Shahed Al Mustakel, it was not produced by the channel itself since the show seeks ultimate independence, said Bashir, who explained: “A friend of mine, with whom I am currently working through Noor al-Ufuq General Contracting company (Horizon Light), encouraged me to do the show.”

In his first episode, Bashir commented on the sectarian crisis in Iraqi society, which is deepened by certain politicians. He explicitly mocks the Sunni and Shiite clerics who incite sectarianism, using sexual innuendoes. But he said, "I cannot say they were innuendoes. When one tells a joke, it can be interpreted in several ways. Some might find them innuendoes, while others think they are perfectly ordinary words.”

Bashir and his crew are filming the show in the Jordanian capital Amman out of fear of being attacked, since he had received several threats from armed militias. “I have been receiving threats from both militias and terrorist groups, and from certain clerics,” he said. However, he wishes to return to Iraq. “I dream of returning to my country and presenting my show in Baghdad, at the same pace and boldness.”

All shows broadcast in Baghdad are similar, to a large extent, to the Egyptian news satire program "Al-Bernameg" hosted by Bassem Youssef, which ended because of political pressure. Bashir said, “All political comedy programs around the world are significantly similar to the structure, presentation and the comical means of 'Al-Bernameg' where Bassem Youssef successfully worked with such means to target the Egyptian public.”

He added, “We are taking advantage of these means to make an Iraqi production using comedy, such as the ones used by Youssef, Jon Stewart [of 'The Daily Show' in America], Stephen Colbert [of 'The Colbert Report' in America] and others.”

Bashir seems ready to handle all the pressures he could possibly be under after criticizing Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in his show’s second episode (which has nearly 60,000 views in 11 days). “We are ready to deal with all possible pressures that have probably already started, but we will do our best so that 'Al-Bashir Show' would be the example of freedom of expression in Iraq," he said. "We are a country that supports democracy in all its forms and political comedy is one of democracy’s most important elements."

Bashir does not hide his ambition in having his own stage, like all satirical program hosts around the world. “This is the ambition of 'Al-Bashir Show'’s whole crew. We want to have an independent stage, so our program would be the first Iraqi show to be presented on stage.”

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