It was a welcome back to television that Bassem Youssef could have written for himself. The television host made famous for his lampooning of Egyptian politics has been slammed with at least two lawsuits this weekend, less than 24 hours after his return to Egyptian prime-time TV.
His first episode after an extended hiatus didn’t pull any punches – it was titled “Revolution or Coup” and poked equal fun at Egyptians who consider the events of the last three months a military coup, and those who consider it a second revolution. Of course, both sides are now suing the Egyptian funnyman.
“Aren’t they just making the jokes for him?” asked Hisham Sabawy, a 31-year-old lawyer who says he is “obsessed” with Youssef’s show. “I mean, the whole point is that these guys take themselves too seriously, they can’t take a joke!”
Details of the lawsuit are still emerging, but one appears to be for jokes Youssef made at the expense of the Egyptian army, and the other over his spearing of the Muslim Brotherhood. Youssef is still facing charges on alleged insults he made to ousted Egyptian President Mohammd Morsi and Islam. On Thursday, Egypt’s State Commissioners of the Administrative Court issued a legal opinion that suggested they would no longer tolerate insults to the office of the Egyptian presidency, saying that the post must be respected and “freedom of expression should respect wider societal values and morals in Egypt, not attack others or waste efforts by the state.”
Youssef, who models his performances on the Daily Show and has welcomed the support of Jon Stewart, has vowed not to water down his scathing political satire — and his audience appears grateful.
“He’s more than comedic relief, for me and my friends he is this voice of sanity telling us that we aren’t the only ones who find Egypt a crazy difficult place right now,” said Leila Hussein, a 24-year-old student who gathered with friends to watch Youssef’s return to TV Friday night after a more than five month hiatus. “In the last couple months, I actually found myself thinking, I wonder what Bassem will say about this.”
The last few months have provided Youssef with a great deal of fodder. After the Egyptian military ousted the Muslim Brotherhood from office, they instilled interim president Adly Mansour, a man few Egyptians have ever heard of. The country is still waiting for its new constitution, and will likely see elections within the next year, as a popular campaign grows to elect General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi for office.
“I have friends that don’t talk to each other anymore, because of everything that’s happened. It is a very tense time in Egypt and we need someone who can maybe make us laugh together,” said Hussein.
Youssef appeared to be aware of the delicate balance he would need to strike. At the start of his show Friday, he changed the words of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” to explain to children what has happened in Egypt over the last three years. As he referred to Egypt’s current leader, Youssef quickly flashed a picture of Sisi, before showing an image of interim president Adly Mansour, and joked many Egyptians couldn’t even identify the latter in a crowd.
It’s a sensitive joke to make, and Youssef knows it.
“In our country, many of us base their opinion of a program or a presenter not on quality of content, but on how much that presenter’s opinion falls in line with theirs,” Youssef wrote in a column earlier this week. “They tell you, ‘Say what you want, but be objective and impartial.’ You try to decipher the meaning of ‘objective and impartial’ — in reality, it means ‘Say my opinion.’”
Many Egyptians went online to show their support for Youssef, and welcome him back on air.
Though others, predictably, didn’t seem to like the punchline.