The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

"It's time for Bassem Youssef"

I was at a very nice Zamalek dinner party on Friday evening (thanks HS!). As the sumptuous meal (which included what I am reliably told are the best warrraq 3einab in town) reached its end, the guests began to agitate. It was 11pm. "It's time for Bassem Youssef!" exclaimed one of them.

Everyone got up from the dinner table and made their way to the coach to watch Egypt's answer to Jon Stewart launch the 2013 season for his "The Show Show", whose late 2012 performances have already gotten him into trouble with the authorities — he is being sued for showing insufficient respect to President Morsi in his, er, satire. To this pretty anti-Morsi crowd, Bassem Youssef has become an icon — as the NYT picked up upon in a recent piece. Youssef has already done some great satire on the Muslim Brotherhood's apparently meaningless Nahda program and occasionally stops the jokes to say some quite serious things, such as telling Salafi sheikhs that they are not religious figures in the eyes of many outside of their followers. (Indeed, most of them are clowns, albeit dangerous clowns.)

Abu Jamajem has some translated segments for those who don't speak Arabic, but follow this YouTube account for someone going through the trouble of subtitling every episode. If there's one place to get the pulse of the liberal view in Egypt, Bassem Youssef's show is it. I wonder how long it will be, though, when like Jon Stewart he starts taking occasional aim at his own side — after all political satire only keeps its edge when it accords equal ridicule to all who deserve it. Although of course one must note that even in the US there is no conservative Daily Show — only a fake conservative spinoff in the Colbert Report. The Salafis, like the Tea Party, are simply too naturally ridiculous to be intentionally funny.