The case of Bassem Youssef, host of the satirical show al-Bernameg, is one battle for Egypt’s civil and military rulers. Suspending the show caused more harm than did Muslim Brotherhood’s protests, which have continued since July following their ouster from governance. The army and the government insist they have nothing to do with suspending the show, which they say is an issue between the concerned television station and the show host, but no one believes this story.
The question is: Why can’t the new regime tolerate a program criticizing it when there are 10 other TV stations praising it and thousands of TV and radio programs defending it day and night?
It’s not easy for any ruler to accept criticism. For sure, criticism is not always constructive. Sometimes it may hurt feelings and incite audiences. But this is the price you pay for being civil and the result of modern technology. A government’s only choice is to accept this and respond to it with similar means. Egypt is not Syria or Iran. It cannot block the Internet and prevent people from shouting and mocking. Egypt is the only place in the world where people recorded details of their lives for thousands of years. Silencing 80 million people in Egypt is not as easy as silencing 300,000 citizens in Qatar. It is a totally impossible mission in Egypt. Egypt’s government does not have the money to calm down people. Its prisons aren’t large enough to fill with millions of complaining people.
During its year in power the Muslim Brotherhood’s cabinet attempted to restrain the media. It targeted Maspero, the headquarters of the state-owned television studios, besieged the production city in Cairo, where most television channels’ studios are located, filed dozens of lawsuits against writers and hosts and took over the attorney- general’s post so it could take legal action against whomsoever it wanted. The Brotherhood also tirelessly attempted to take over the judiciary. All these actions produced one thing: Real hatred mixed with fear of the Brotherhood and their fascist regime.
A way out
Egyptians championed the army and demanded that it intervene as a result of the hatred for the Muslim Brotherhood’s practices. This was with the condition that the previous violations are not repeated by the new rulers. The army gained popularity, but this could evaporate as disputes emerge.
Youssef’s act of ridiculing the army and the government did not harm the situation as much as suspending the show didAbdulrahman al-Rashed
The Brotherhood’s current acts of intimidation in Sinai and their protests at al-Azhar have not weakened the value of the army or the interim government. The Americans’ warning statements and visits have not succeeded at shaking the Egyptians’ confidence in the new government. However, this popularity will weaken if they are to continue restraining the media if government services deteriorate. In this case the army will be abandoned by its allies and the image of the Muslim Brotherhood will be polished.
Youssef’s act of ridiculing the army and the government did not harm the situation as much as suspending the show, al-Bernameg, did. The suspension has worried other media figures about the suppression they could face.
Egyptian rulers must co-exist and act positively and wisely with the media. This is because there is no suppressive means capable of silencing them. When late American President Gerald Ford was mocked by caricaturists, instead of silencing them, he joined in with some self-mockery.
He placed an illustration in one room of the White House saying: “Gerald Ford can't walk and chew gum at the same time,” following an incident in which he fell while leaving Air Force One.
Many in Egypt hope that the army rulers will lead the country out of this dangerous tunnel it’s passing through. They hope Egypt’s authorities will act as Spain’s Francisco Franco did in the 20th century and hand over power to a democratic system. They hope Egypt’s rulers will act as the military did in Turkey. The only difference is that Egypt’s army came to power with a wave of massive popularity and did not snatch power in the dark.
This article was first published in al-Sharq al-Awsat on Nov. 4, 2013.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.