Ban targeting Egypt satirist opens new debate on freedoms

The Egyptian CBC channel’s decision to cancel Bassem Youssef’s comedy show has clearly ignored any semblance of freedom of expression in an increasingly polarized post-June 30 Egypt.

al-monitor Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef's show was banned by the Egyptian CBC channel's chairman, October 2013. Photo by Facebook.

Topics covered

television, freedom of expression, entertainment, egyptian society, egyptian revolution, bassem youssef, abdel fattah al-sisi

Nov 7, 2013

"Al-Bernameg," a TV show hosted by Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef, was banned following a decision by Egyptian CBC channel's board chairman. A great deal of justification, expression, condemnation, denunciation and schadenfreude followed, but the bigger question revolves around freedoms in post-Brotherhood Egypt.

How are Egyptian freedoms related to a technical dispute between the show’s producer and presenter, and the channel management? The dispute is purely commercial, as announced by the channel management, and no authority has anything to do with it, according to the Egyptian presidency.

This is what has been stated, but there are certain conclusions that can be drawn. The first episode of the current season was widely criticized for attacking the current authorities in Egypt. Youssef criticized Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s power and the marginal role played by President Adly Mansour. He mocked journalists, artists and even ordinary people who excessively praised Sisi. He jokingly tackled the relationship between “the masses” (the Egyptian people) and officers throughout history, while deeply criticizing deposed President Mohammed Morsi.

Less than a week after a campaign of criticism against Youssef began, the show was officially banned until “problems are resolved,” as per the channel’s statement.

Now, any observer has the right to establish a link between the authorities’ anger, through the campaign waged by its supporters, and the decision to ban the program, originally intended to be taken for a management issue that has nothing to do with politics.

Egyptian businessman Mohamed Al-Amin, the owner of CBC, is not far from the current ruling circles in Egypt. Amin dedicated his media outlets (just like other businessmen) to attacking the Brotherhood’s rule, through Youssef, among others. Therefore, he is one of the sponsors of the transition to the post-Brotherhood period, and he gives his blessing to the Sisi road map and the government that was formed as a result of it. Therefore, it is hard to believe the story mentioned in the statement, saying that technical and non-political aspects led to the banning of the show (the channel was adept at defending its position on the ban of an episode of the same show during Morsi's presidency).

In this context, the debate about freedoms in Egypt arises. It is a utopian debate that neglects the fact that the country is in a state of real war on a military, security and political level. War is violently raging between two distinct parties, where there is no room left for a third. You are either with the Brotherhood and its extensions, or with the post-Brotherhood camp and those affiliated with it. The war is real. It involves, as we can see, all kinds of tools: the army, police, intelligence, local, regional and international diplomatic efforts, as well as media outlets that are continuously mobilized to praise June 30 and its outcome.

In the logic of this war, and since it is a war, attack (of any form) [should] only target the announced enemy. In the logic of Western wars, we have noticed how the Western media machine was dedicated to the war effort, sweeping away any professional objectivity and media freedom. This is how things go in seasons of war.

However, is it right to yield to the logic of “no cry is louder than the cry of battle"? Is the historical, popular invasion that has been dealt with in Egypt and said to be behind the military move threatened by Youssef’s jokes and mockery? Is it permissible to talk about a war in Egypt that does not allow criticism, impartiality or a third opinion? Is it possible for someone in Egypt to honestly oppose the Brotherhood, and yet honestly criticize the authorities, any authority? Isn’t the administrative decision of Amin considered involvement on the part of the new rule, supposing the authorities were not behind the channel’s decision, in a debate about freedom and oppression amid the current controversy within international forums about Sisi’s legitimacy? And finally, is it possible to do away with idols that are worshiped, after Islam removed them more than 14 centuries ago? Is it possible to stop deifying our leaders, even if they themselves are not the ones behind this deification?

Only the jester can remind the king that he too will die — an old-new balance that ought to be maintained, both in the era of the Brotherhood or in the era of those who removed the rule of the Brotherhood.

If the interests of the channel (if we were to believe this) required banning Youssef’s show, perhaps the interest of the country, and the transformation that took place, require that the (supreme) power interfere to remove this charge and place pressure in order for this show to return as an ordinary, normal and routine phenomenon, as a comic art that will always be criticized or praised.

Youssef’s use of sexual innuendo (or what has been described as “erotica” by some critics) are contrary to the values ​​of Egyptian society. This is how the channel justified its decision, while the owner of the channel indicated that Western channels broadcast this type of show in the late hours of the night. In that case, let the show be broadcast late at night. What is wrong with that?

This is an ambiguous case that may be taken to a whole new negative level — hiding behind the holiness of social values ​​to silence another sound. Haven’t dictatorships been justified by democracy’s contradiction with our values ​​and culture? Then how do we develop these values ​​and increase their openness when we hide behind fake, old statements? And how are these insinuations different from what we openly talk about in our homes, cafes, streets and offices?

The debate on freedoms in Egypt (whether "Al-Bernameg" was broadcast or not) is a healthy debate that the post-January 25 Egypt deserves, especially after June 30. Some Egyptian media outlets opted for racist and chauvinist provocation that promotes a single idea. If the country is fighting a difficult war to escape the culture of dictatorship — be it civil or religious — then Egypt has the right to enjoy utmost freedoms when it comes to criticizing deification of people, a critique that includes all kinds of deification, even the kind that some want to attribute to Youssef himself.

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More from  Mohammad Kawwas

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