“So who will you talk about now? “ Are you wondering how many times I’ve heard this since Mohammad Mursi was ousted? A lot!
Many people form a link between sarcasm and breaking certain public figures. When we started the show online and then moved to television, we considered this our chance to present a new way of expressing opinions through mockery and comedy.
Many people accepted this new way, while others rejected it claiming it was haram (forbidden by Islam) or inappropriate.
But in reality, many of those who objected did so because they did not like the program’s orientations and opinions.
Many Brotherhood members who liked the show during its first season started to hate it just because we performed a rap song against them. The enmity, of course, increased during the second season when Mursi and hosts of religious programs provided us with permanent, renewable, material.
When people live in a state of terror, fear, anger and hatred, no one wants to listen to the voice of reason, let alone that of sarcasm!Bassem Youssef
The show was the Brotherhood’s enemies’ favorite. But even they did not tolerate a few segments when we mocked Ahmad Shafiq or criticized their stance when they to besieged the Brotherhood headquarters in Moqattam.
In our country, many evaluate a program or a host based on how much they agree with this host and not based on the quality of what is being presented.
They tell you: “Say whatever you want, but stay objective. Stay neutral.”
And then you get confused interpreting “neutral and objective” because in reality they mean: “Say what I approve of.”
When General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s supporters see me, they make the pre-emptive move of warning “Don’t you dare talk about Sisi.” They do so although they are the same people who used to wait for the program so they could hear me talk about Mursi. Not only that, but after the episode’s end, they used to tell me: “But you were nice to him.” It is as if they weren’t pleased unless I insulted someone and his parents.
When I confront them with that, they repeat the same statements made by the Brotherhood. Statements like: “It’s inappropriate. It’s not the time for this.”
The truth is, there’s no tolerance by the Brotherhood or by those who call themselves liberals. Everyone is looking for a pharaoh his size.
On Al-Jazeera, they broadcast a documentary stating that al-Bernameg, my show, was an important reason for toppling Mursi. They insinuated that a sarcastic show broadcast once a week for less than one hour was capable of toppling a regime and an organization which is more than 80 years old. They claimed that the show harmed Mursi’s governance more than Mursi himself harmed it. And in case this is true, then this is proof of the governance’s fragility and not of the pharaoh’s strength.
Addressing the rumors
I don’t usually talk about al-Bernameg in my articles. But, I am talking about it now to clarify a few things. I have kept silent in the past few weeks when I read or heard rumors about the program and whether it was stopped or whether it will resume. This is why I chose to clarify these things because the issue is deeper than just talking about a television show.
We stopped in Ramadan and Eid al-Adha because they are vacations announced in advance. Our return was delayed because of the curfew and because we don’t shoot the show at the Production City but downtown, a few meters away from Tahrir Square. It wasn’t acceptable to jeopardize the crew and the audience. When the curfew was decreased, we decided to return. But then we postponed our return again after my mother passed away. So we decided to return after the 40th day of her mourning.
During the weeks when the program wasn’t broadcast, I observed the rumors, analyses and speculations which became news and a fait accompli. There was news that the program was stopped, and news that I was banned from appearing on TV and that the contract with the station ended “after I performed my role,” as they put it.
What is interesting is that weeks after gloating because the program “has been banned,” after we announced that the program will resume and after we explained the reasons behind the delay, the tune changed to “we dare you to criticize Sisi and [ Interim-President] Adly Mansour.” If we were to do this, they would say it’s not enough or that it’s a charade or they would demand us “to do just like you did with Mursi.”
Fine. Let them act like Mursi and I will do whatever they want!
Therefore, if you are Islamic or a liberal or if you love the military or the Brotherhood, don’t convince yourself that you are objective or neutral. You are biased and prejudiced just like you describe this host or that channel.
Sisi’s fans use the same terms that Mursi’s fans used.
They will not stand a word against Sisi. Their defense of freedom and democracy will stop the minute they are annoyed by the same joke they applauded for before. I went to the attorney general because of the Brotherhood, and I may visit him again soon because of other people who love freedom “just like they cherish their eyes” or who love freedom according to their mood.
I admit that the situation is now more difficult, not because the material coming from religious channels or Mursi has decreased, but because the general mood has become different.
How will we come up with a sarcastic comic program when bloody talk is all we have day and night? How do we make people laugh when their daily lives are full of talk about terrorism, fear and murder?
When people live in a state of terror, fear, anger and hatred, no one wants to listen to the voice of reason, let alone that of sarcasm!
When someone asks me: “What will you do after this? How will you make us laugh?” I say that political sarcastic shows are society’s mirror. If everything in the country is depressing, we will do our best to draw a smile on the face of those who are bored of traditional shows and we will laugh with them instead of crying.
The challenge is great. This is why I like to thank and voice my appreciation for the wonderful team which I am lucky to spend more time with than I spend with my own family.
I don’t promise you that you will roll on the floor laughing when you watch the new season of al-Bernameg but we promise you that we will enjoy what we are doing so we produce a different media product which we’ve put all our effort into.
I apologize in advance because you will not agree with everything I say. You may hate us and you may even “look down on us.”
Therefore, I conclude this article with these famous sayings:
“He who tries to please everybody, pleases no body.”
“There’s no accounting for taste.”
“This is why God created the remote [control].”
God willing, we’ll see you on Oct. 25.
This article was origionally published in al-Shorouk on Oct. 22, 2013.
Bassem Youssef is is an Egyptian doctor, satirist, and the host of El Bernameg ("The Program"), a satirical news program broadcast by a private Egyptian television station. The press has compared Youssef with American comedian Jon Stewart, whose satire program The Daily Show inspired Youssef to begin his career. Despite all controversy and legal debates it has sparked, El Bernameg has been a major success. It is constantly topping the regional YouTube charts, making Youssef's YouTube channel one of the most subscribed to in Egypt.