Egypt's 'Daily Show'

By Giglio, Mike | Newsweek, March 8, 2013 | Go to article overview

Egypt's 'Daily Show'


Giglio, Mike, Newsweek


Byline: Mike Giglio

Bassem Youssef takes on the Salafis with American-style satire.

Two blocks from Tahrir Square, hidden amid the chaos and faded buildings of downtown Cairo, Bassem Youssef's studio projects the optimism of an earlier age. It's housed inside the Cinema Radio building, modeled after Radio City Music Hall and constructed in the 1930s, during the golden era of Egyptian film. After decades of disuse, the complex has recently been revived by Youssef, the Jon Stewart-styled host of a wildly popular satirical talk show, who is fast becoming Egypt's biggest new star. Youssef's likeness now towers over Cinema Radio's entrance on gigantic, Hollywood-esque billboards, a jarring sight for a man who was an anonymous heart surgeon just two years ago, and who says he still cringes self-consciously when he catches a glimpse of himself on TV.

Youssef moved into the studio for the start of his second season late last year. Called Al Bernameg, Arabic for "The Program," the weekly show--which sees Youssef dissecting the country's contentious politics with a Stewart-like mix of impishness and exasperation--started after the 2011 revolution as a YouTube series filmed in Youssef's living room. He had been planning to leave Egypt for a medical fellowship in Ohio, but the videos went viral and landed him a television deal. Al Bernameg is now must-see TV in Egypt, with crowds gathering to watch in cafes as if it were a soccer match.

Egypt, Youssef discovered, is fertile ground for political satire these days. "I think it was just the right moment, doing it the right way," he says of his show. "It all happened so fast."

Yet Youssef's success has also made him a target of Egypt's new political powers, who seem rattled by his popularity and brand of biting humor. Sitting in his office at the Cinema Radio building one recent afternoon, he described various attempts to ruin his reputation and possibly force him off the air: government supporters railing against him on their own TV shows, litigation accusing him of insulting the president--and even of blasphemy. While Youssef has not yet been officially charged with any crimes, he clearly feels the pressure, which may be the point. "Their tentacles are everywhere. They will come after you one way or another," he says. "It's not a joke."

Cinema Radio's proximity to Tahrir Square makes it a fitting venue for Youssef. With Islamists dominating the government, and gaining power in the TV news industry too, the show has become a hit with Egyptians unhappy with their growing influence. Youssef often comes across as a rare voice of reason through his satire. He has also developed into a champion for activists locked in a bitter struggle against President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. The smell of tear gas, from clashes between protesters and security forces in and around Tahrir, occasionally drifts into the studio.

Morsi and the Brotherhood provide Youssef and his writers with much of their comedic ammunition--as do the combative, religiously righteous Salafi politicians and media personalities now ubiquitous on Egypt's airwaves. "They make wonderful material," Youssef says. "Actually, we get fed up with the repeated good material from the Salafis. Even Stewart wouldn't go after Glenn Beck every day."

Many of the Salafi TV hosts make Beck look staid, calling their opponents everything from atheists to hermaphrodites. Khaled Abdullah, whose histrionics are notorious, was the first to broadcast the YouTube trailer insulting the Prophet Muhammad last fall, and many Egyptians blamed him for the ensuing riots. Youssef has lampooned the hardliners as hypocrites and dismissed them as "merchants of religion." (He is also fond of mocking former supporters of dictator Hosni Mubarak and opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei.)

But comedy took a dark turn in November when Morsi temporarily assumed autocratic powers that allowed him to push an Islamist-penned constitution through the drafting assembly.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Egypt's 'Daily Show'
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.