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Doing it for the kids in Egypt

Bassem Youssef

Published: Updated:

Today, I don’t want to talk about politics and its problems. I want to talk about a completely different subject that may appear silly amidst what the country is witnessing in light of its political shifts, terrorist disturbances and so on. So, I apologize in advance to readers.

During the past few weeks, I had the chance to spend more time with my family and my daughter who is no more than one-and-a-half-years old. My daughter, like other kids her age, moves, plays, yells and bumps into everyone and everything. Well, quite honestly, Nadia is a bit more hyperactive than others her age. We were so happy when we found something that makes her calm and attentive. The magical solution is watching children’s videos and songs on YouTube and television channels.

It’s nice when you see that your child is calmly watching something instead of turning it into a weapon of mass destruction in your house.

I watched some of these channels out of curiosity and realized there isn’t a single Egyptian channel among them.

Most YouTube channels that appeal to children are foreign ones. The videos on these channels have recorded views that exceed tens of millions. There are other Arabic channels but none of them are in the Egyptian dialect. Cartoon channels on television are in a foreign language, and if they are not so they are dubbed. This is in addition to other Arab countries’ channels or specialized channels that are part of giant networks like MBC or al-Jazeera.

I thus wondered: where are the programs for Egyptian children?

When I was young

I remember when I was a kid we had shows like the “Children’s Cinema” with Afaf al-Helawy and “What Kids Request.”
Although these programs formed our sentiment and although they were famous back then, we found out as we grew older that we had been deceived. These programs’ advantage was that they had no competition from other satellite channels or from the internet. We got hooked on these shows because of the host’s personality. But these shows’ episodes were a mere copy and paste of foreign products to which a translation read out by the host was provided.

I’ve realized now that despite its leadership, the Egyptian television has failed in presenting any successful model for our children although it was the first one to launch in the region.

The issue is now much worse. I know for a fact that there are many talented people attempting to provide Egyptian content for children. These talents are being rejected. It’s as if Egyptian channels signed a confidential pact not to buy or encourage any Egyptian product for children. It seems it is unprofitable for an Egyptian channel to buy such programs. Therefore, all you watch on private channels are talk shows, Turkish soap operas and competitions filmed in Lebanon.

Where’s the Egyptian content?

They say there’s a channel called “The Channel of Family and Child.” Does anyone watch it? Is anyone influenced by it? If private channels which seek financial profit do not want to buy children’s programs, then where is the patriotic role the state must carry out?

When Egyptian singer Hamada Hilal attempted to present a song for children, he used SpongeBob SquarePants, a cartoon character that is neither Egyptian nor Arabic.

Egyptian talk show host Safaa Abu al-Saud used to appear once every year during children’s celebrations in front of Susan Mubarak. Even this doesn’t happen anymore!

Absent nationalism

Our kids’ eyes are currently saturated with foreign children programs, and their ears are currently saturated with dubbed non-Egyptian dialects. Our culture and nationalism are absent.

You may think this is a silly article because it talks about children’s programs and songs. But we all have kids whose characters, values, language and dialect are being molded through programs, songs and characters that do not belong to us.

Our kids’ eyes are currently saturated with foreign children programs and their ears are currently saturated with dubbed non-Egyptian dialects

Bassem Youssef

I am not one of those who like to exaggerate issues and bring up conspiracy theories to link them to everything happening. I do not want to use expressions like: “this is war against our identity and an attempt to obliterate our character.” It’s not a war. A war is a struggle between two parties. Our side has chosen not to get involved in the war in the first place and handed the arena over to others so they do whatever they want with it. We sat with a smile on our face as we watched our children sing foreign children’s songs learning a new language without caring about our own language.

I am also not one of those who repeats accusations of war against identity or against “decadent western values” being taught to our children. Western children’s programs are in fact very beneficial and very educational. What really provokes you is that their ideas are simple and do not require huge funding. Despite that, we chose the easy way and imported things. It would have been better for us if we manufactured and created them ourselves to present to our children here.

I am also not one of those who fights foreign languages. On the contrary, I believe that children must learn a second and a third language at an early age and that they must excel in them, but not at the expense of their first language.
We let our children watch TV and YouTube channels and we’re happy they are calm and focused on something else other than damaging furniture and causing noise, but in the long run we lose a lot.

We are experts at wasting our resources. The Egyptians have gained fame in that their country has many features that other countries dream of. For example, the geographic location, the Nile River, the extended shores, the beautiful weather and the mineral wealth. Despite that, we are scholars when it comes to wasting these resources and experts at not benefiting from them.

We still have one resource and one wealth. That is our children. But unfortunately, we are wasting this resource due to negligence, illiteracy and bad education. Whether they are from poor or well-off families, we are estranging them and turning them into children who sing, think, dream and joke in a language other than their first language. You may be happy now with this achievement. But in the near future, if you are not estranged too, your destiny will be the same as your mother tongue - used by your child only when needed.

This article was first published in al-Shorouk on Sept. 25, 2013.

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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.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.