Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Why the Joke Isn't Funny Any More

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Why the Joke Isn't Funny Any More

Article excerpt

"How many terms do Egyptian presidents serve?" the joke goes. "Two. One in office and one in prison." Both Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's dictator for almost 30 years, and Mohammed Morsi, the country's first democratically elected president, are under arrest and are in the middle of lengthy trial proceedings. Under Egypt's military leadership, jokes are wearing thin.

On 1 November, the Egyptian TV channel CBC refused to air a new episode of El-Bernameg, the satirical programme fronted by Bassem Youssef, a comedian known in the west as "Egypt's Jon Stewart". Youssef's first programme since Morsi was toppled in July, which aired on 25 October, had divided audiences. As well as taking aim at Morsi, long the butt of Youssefs jokes, he poked fun at the public adulation of Egypt's interim military leader, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and at rising censorship.

There's no evidence to suggest that the military forced CBC executives to pull El-Bernameg but even if CBC acted voluntarily--whether out of self-censorship or political conviction--there's cause for concern. Karl Sharro, a Lebanese-Iraqi architect who writes a satirical blog on Middle Eastern politics called Karl ReMarks, says that he's noticed a shift in the public's attitude: when it comes to criticising the army, many Egyptians have become po-faced.

"A lot of people are hostile to critical thinking and have bought into the idea of the army as the vehicle for change," he says. In this atmosphere, he believes, "Satirical ideas, because they are the harshest, will come to the foreground quite quickly. …

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