A private Egyptian TV station stopped the airing of the latest episode of a widely popular political satire program Friday after it came under fire for mocking the ultra nationalist, pro-military fervor gripping the country.
CBC announced the program by Bassem Youssef, often compared to U.S. comedian Jon Stewart, would not be shown because the satirist and his producer violated its editorial policies. The announcement came just minutes before Youssef's show “El-Bernameg,” or “The Program” in Arabic, was to air Friday night.
A broadcaster read a statement issued by the station's board of directors saying that Youssef and the producer “insist on continuing to not commit to the editorial policy” of CBC, which he said are part of the contract.
The pre-recorded weekly program returned to air last week after a four-month hiatus that happened as Egypt's military toppled Islamist President Mohammed Mursi after massive protests against his government. Youssef often mocked Mursi on the program, galvanizing public disenchantment with the leader.
His show last week strongly mocked the military fever now gripping Egypt, as well as poked fun at military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
Military supporters immediately filed legal complaints against the show. CBC, whose programming largely supported the coup, distanced itself from the program's content. The channel said supports national sentiment and is “keen on not using phrases and innuendos that may lead to mocking national sentiment or symbols of the Egyptian state.”
It did, however, say at the time it was committed to freedom of expression. But the statement appeared to dump any criticism of the show on Youssef and serve as a warning to the satirist.
Those who watched the pre-recorded episode set to be aired Friday night said Youssef spent a large segment of the program mocking CBC, as well as its editorial policies, the statement it put out after the show, and its choice of soap operas. It also made fun of the previous episode that came under fire.
Critics of Youssef staged a protest outside the theater where he was recording his program Wednesday and scuffled with his supporters. Riot police broke up the crowd.
Egypt's prosecutors launched investigations into complaints about Youssef's show, on accusations he disrupted public order and mocked Egypt and its military leaders. Youssef had been subjected to similar litigation when Mursi was in power. Mursi's supporters had filed complaints about his program, accusing him of insulting the president and Islam, leading to him once being briefly detained.
On Friday, the station's statement said after reviewing the content of last week's episode, it deemed the program violated its instructions.
“After the angry reaction following the last episode, we notified the presenter and producer of the program on the need to abide by the guidelines in the statement” issued earlier, it said. The station also said that Youssef violated financial commitments, failed to live to his commitments in the first season and demanded more money.
The suspension provoked immediate angry reaction, mostly directed at CBC. One group- the June 30 Front - called for a boycott of the station, hailing Youssef as a “dreamer of freedom” who draws a smile on the face of Egyptians. Others criticized the new sense of fear about expressing opinions in Egypt that run counter to the military.
Youssef had had disputes with the station before. In his first episode after joining the station at the height of the Mursi rule, Youssef mocked it for being stacked with former supporters of the regime of Hosni Mubarak. He also made fun of its claims of having revolutionary credentials.
Youssef angered one of the station's star broadcasters so much that he threatened to take legal action against him. The station didn't air the following episode, though the show returned a week later.
Youssef left Egypt to the United Arab Emirates on Friday. It was not clear if he was in the Gulf state on a business or private trip.