Egypt’s Bassem Youssef cancels satirical TV show

Host says satirical show El Bernameg will no longer air, as Egypt looks to confirm Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as president

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It was once seen as a brave new voice of Egypt’s new media scene – but al-Bernameg, the popular satirical show fronted by Bassem Youssef, is no more.

The charismatic host of al-Bernameg , or ‘The Program’, today announced that the show would no longer resume, amid changing political tides in his home country.

Youssef made the announcement at a press conference earlier today, reportedly after he and his crew realized it was better to end the show rather than destroy its spirit.

Bassem Youssef (AFP)
Bassem Youssef (AFP)

“MBC did not pressurize us. Instead, there was coordination, cooperation and understanding. The pressures have been made from the first episode and MBC Masr had fought for us as much as possible,” said Youssef.

“I believed if it were on another channel, the program would’ve been shut after the first or second episode. On MBC we were able to run 11 episodes.

The popular political satirist said he feared for his life with the show.

“People used to besiege the theater, yet we presented the show even under unsuitable conditions for any comedy show. I am tired of worry and fear for my personal safety and for my family.”

Youssef's predicament is likely to raise new questions about the freedom of expression in Egypt, the most populous Arab state.

The decision to end the program is a “victory for al-Bernameg” and we consider this in itself as a strong and clear message for whom it may concern and we will not present it from outside Egypt.

“I thank MBC Masr for hosting us and I can't blame it for the pressures it had been put under. It was more than it could handle,” Youssef said.

“Those who think there has not been pressure are delusional.”

MBC group spokesman Mazen Hayek said the network had nothing to do with the decision to pull the show off air. “Like Bassem said, MBC did its best to keep the program on air,” according to Reuters.

Asked to comment on media reports that Saudi Arabian authorities had pressured MBC to end the show, he said: "I am not in a position to confirm or deny such rumors."

Youssef said taking his show to YouTube is not an option because “YouTube cannot fund the program.” “We refused broadcasting the program from outside of Egypt… and I am not an agent,” Youssef added.

The news comes just a week after Egypt’s election, and ahead of the widely anticipated announcement that former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will be named president.

Youssef had previously poked fun of the national obsession with al-Sisi, although had sometimes taken care not to mention the powerful former army chief by name.

Egyptian officials told Al Arabiya News that the decision to suspend the program was not due to government pressure. “We just found out about it ourselves via Twitter,” the official said under condition of anonymity.

Youssef’s show rose to prominence under Mohammed Mursi’s presidency, and he was known to poke fun of the former leader, who was ousted by the army in July.

The show appeared on MBC Masr. Al Arabiya News is also part of MBC Group. Youssef’s show previously aired on the Egyptian satellite television channel CBC, which pulled it after saying the program violated its editorial policy and contractual obligations, and that he upset Egyptian sensibilities by attacking “symbols of the state.”

Youseff’s opponents included members from the Muslim Brotherhood, influential media figures as well as some ordinary Egyptians.

Scores of social-media users today commeted on the decision to pull the show.

Dr H.A. Hellyer, a Cairo-based analyst and commentator, wrote on Twitter that it was a “sad day for Egyptian and all Arabic media.”

“Those responsible for applying such pressure on a satire show only expose their own weakness,” he wrote. “Bassem Youssef confirms: he could have reduced al-Bernameg's tempo, just as others have done. But he refused: and hence, the show is over.”

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