Egypt is at it again, gossiping for entertainment

The leak of private phone conversations in Egypt cannot be justified

Bassem Youssef

Published: Updated:

Last month I published an article entitled “My tattletale aunt” in which I discussed the leaks which have been swamping our TV channels. In that article, I focused on a specific show that broadcasted the leaked conversations of journalists and activists.

I began the article by saying: “I don’t need to write a detailed article in order to provide legal and moral proof that the recent broadcast of recorded phone conversations made by Egyptian activists is a crime. Such an act is certainly a crime and the host who aired the recordings, the officer who leaked them and the entire apparatus which recorded these conversations must be punished.”

I began the article as such because I thought that not spying on people and not publicly broadcasting the content of personal phone conversations are things that go without saying. I thought such a behavior was unacceptable and I didn’t think I needed to discuss issues which are self-evident in the entire respectable world. But after I saw that people defended this low behavior, it seems I will have to take this article to a very low intellectual level. I’ve found out that most of those who support these leaks and follow up on them are educated, intellectual men who attend aristocratic clubs and who give you examples of respectable countries to convince you that what’s happening is acceptable and even legal.

Allow me to discuss some points that appear self-evident and logical. So excuse me if this article looks educational.

The first argument

“So none of you talked about the Sisi leaks on Al-Jazeera or you only talk when leaks are linked to some activists?”

This was not solely the argument of some people on Twitter and Facebook. But it was also the argument of the prominent host at the prominent TV channel as he discussed the leaks. Despite the fact that the prominent host must not speak as per the logic of “how come this and how come that,” it’s okay, let’s discuss this logic.

In principle, if they are traitors and if they are sabotaging Egypt, then these leaks belong at the attorney-general’s office and not the TV

Bassem Youssef

In principle, Sisi is the defense minister and practically he’s the strongest man in Egypt now. Comparing him with helpless citizens does not serve the interest of the argument.

Second of all, to take a miserable channel like Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr as a model of how media should be is a shameful act you’re committing as a media figure and it’s not a reasonable reason to accept the issue of leaks.

Third of all, what is being called “leaks on Sisi” are mostly dialogues recorded with dailies’ editors-in-chief. Those who were present during the dialogue were aware that the dialogue was being recorded. Therefore most of these leaks are of no value because they’ve already been published. And if any dialogues have been leaked without prior agreement, then the blame falls on the journalist who leaked the recording (which they already agreed upon while holding the dialogue). The issue here is purely linked to professional journalism. No personal phone conversation was recorded without his knowledge as he freely spoke, as is the case with the other leaks.

The second argument

“Don’t talk to me about privacy. They are traitors and they are sabotaging Egypt. These leaks scandalize them.”

In principle, if they are traitors and if they are sabotaging Egypt, then these leaks belong at the attorney-general’s office and not the TV in other words, if there’s something in these leaks that proves they are colluding against the country and betraying it, then the state’s sovereign apparatuses must deal with these recordings and immediate accusations must be made against them. But these leaks are more than two years old and the state knows about them. Therefore, the emergence of these leaks now convicts the state apparatuses which kept silent regarding these traitors all this time and which left the security and intelligence fate in the hands of a host on a commercial TV channel. If state security and intelligence apparatuses are incapable of exposing these agents, then let’s assign this host as both an interior minister and an intelligence chief.

The third argument

“America is spying on the people too. Obama turned out to be spying on Germany’s Merkel.”

Yes, this is true. But what happened in the U.S. was categorized as a “scandal” as per all standards. The issue was known as “Obama’s scandal” and as “the U.S. National Security Agency scandal.” Snowden, the American citizen who exposed this issue and fled to Russia, is a popular hero in America because he told the American people that their government is spying on them. America which is also confronting terrorist threats and foreign conspiracies did not send these recording to Fox News and NBC channels so the Americans can watch them as part of their entertainment at dinner time. The mere presence of recordings was enough for the media to open fire on the government. The media did not support this low act like what’s happening here.

I also don’t know what proves collaboration in the phone call between Wael Ghoneim and Mustafa al-Najjar as they said: “A deal is being brokered and America is playing a major role and the country is getting lost.” If this proves anything, it proves they are angels and not agents.

Another point on America

Some make appearances on TV channels and tell us what America is doing and that we are not very different from it before cursing it at the end. An example of that is what a famous artist recently said. He noted the state of alert which happened in America following the Sept. 11 attacks and noted how America “closed in on itself” and persecuted the Muslims there. He said that to justify any exceptional measures the current Egyptian regime is doing. The justification is “America did it.”

Okay fine. Let’s take one at a time. Most of the persecution which happened was on the level of citizens and people. The American official stance was very careful in making accusations. Yes, there were violations by the FBI and many citizens were harassed. But this happened because there’s a legal system that doesn’t look at your religion or origin. There were laws that allowed one to resort to the judiciary and demand his rights. Yes, there’s the Guantanamo prison, but it’s considered a mark of shame against the U.S. and you rarely find any media outlets defending it. It’s also considered one of the issues used to attack Obama and Bush before him.

If you really want to draw a comparison, imagine if an American citizen blows himself up in the center of Cairo or if a Christian citizen commits a terrorist act. Do you think a single Christian citizen would remain alive in Egypt? I don’t think so.

Also, when you compare yourself with progressive countries, take examples of justice, human rights and religious tolerance. Don’t take the worst of their practices as an example.

There’s also this argument which everyone repeats: “Look what America did in Afghanistan and Iraq and then talk to me about human rights.” This is an illogical argument because America’s crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq are truly decadent crimes but they were not committed against American citizens but against citizens of other nationalities whom America considers as enemies. So justifying the decadent crimes against the people of your country upon the basis of America’s degradation against other citizens is pure absurdity.

Therefore, in the end of this boring and self-evident article, I would like to summarize some points.

In the entire history of both the progressive and the backward world, it’s never happened that personal phone conversations were broadcast without a court order. If you miss the days during which people were spied on during the days of Gamal Abdel Nasser and after him, well at least these phone conversations were not broadcast for the public and they were used as a tool to pressure others via security means and not via television programs.

Your use of Al-Jazeera channel to justify the degraded media performance does not serve your cause. Your use of America and its violations of human rights in Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Iraq is not a justification for violating human rights here.

I would like to conclude my article with a dialogue that really happened with a man who has a long experience in the fields of judiciary and law. The conversation happened at an aristocratic club.

Following a long conversation on human rights and on how these phone conversations should be dealt with via the authorities and not the media, I asked him one question: “as a man of law, do you think this is a legal measure the court would accept?”

He said: “no, of course not. But we’re being entertained.”

Really, let us be entertained. And when you hear your personal phone conversations being broadcast on TV, be entertained as well and while you’re at it, demand your percentage of the commercials.

This article was first published in al- Shorouk on Feb. 4, 2014.


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.
Top Content Trending