Egypt’s popular TV satirist Bassem Youssef has poked fun at the country’s new rulers, warning against oppression in the name of safeguarding national security.
Staging a new season of his show “Al Bernameg” (The Programme) more than three months after the military deposed president Mohammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, Youssef on Friday night launched bold gibes at the widely popular army chief Abdul Fattah Al Sisi, portraying him as Egypt’s de facto ruler.
Al Sisi was the architect of the July ouster of Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, after enormous street protests against the Islamist leader’s one-year-old rule.
Youssef, a satirical detractor of Morsi, derided Egyptians’ infatuation with Al Sisi, remarking that the strongman’s devotees do not stand any criticism of him.
While many ordinary and political Egyptians cannot remember the name of caretaker President Adly Mansour installed after Morsi’s removal, Youssef, dubbed Egypt’s John Stewart, made fun of adulation heaped on Al Sisi.
“The president (Mansour) probably doesn’t want to smile because he knows there is another one who has captured the hearts and minds of Egyptians,” Youssef said, referring to Al Sisi and repeating famous lines from the strongman’s speeches.
In a gesture of Al Sisi’s wide popularity, a brand of chocolate named after him and carrying his picture have hit the local market. “Its taste is irresistible and invaluable!” Youssef quipped.
Youssef showed men calling Al Sisi as “virile” whole women describing him as “my groom”.
Several petition campaigns are under way in Egypt to coax Al Sisi into running for president. The 59-year-old general has kept open the possibility of contesting the next year’s presidential elections by saying in a recent press interview that “God’s will is to prevail”.
Youssef, a former heart surgeon, assailed the biased media in Egypt, showing pro-military TV hosts branding critics as “traitors” and members of “a fifth column”.
He also highlighted Egyptians’ sharp political polarisation and bafflement on whether Morsi’s ouster was a revolution or a coup.
“I won’t be on the side of those who called me an infidel and demanded I go to jail,” said Youssef, who has built much of his fame on mocking Morsi’s policy and public behaviour much to the chagrin of Islamists, who filed dozens of legal complaints against the comedian.
Earlier this year, Youssef was questioned for allegedly defaming Islam and showing disrespect to Morsi. He was released on bail. The case was closed after Morsi’s toppling.
“Nor will I take the side of hypocrisy and of those seeking to create a new pharaoh.”
Hundreds of leading Islamists, including Morsi himself, have been detained in the past three months allegedly for inciting violence against opponents.
More than 1,000 people have been killed in Egypt since Morsi’s overthrow in street clashes involving his backers, opponents and security forces. The military-installed authorities have closed down several pro-Morsi Islamist TV stations, raising concerns about freedom of expression.
“I am afraid that we’ll replace religious fascism with a new fascism in the name of [preserving] the country and national security,” commented Youssef. “Will the new authority and the one that will follow it be tolerant and accept sarcasm?”
Youssef rose to renown first as an amateur through videos he taped inside his Cairo apartment and uploaded on YouTube during a 2011 revolt that deposed Morsi’s predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.
His popularity widened after he started presenting his show on the private ONTV and later on CBC.