‘Too popular to be killed or jailed’
When sarcasm becomes the most effective political weapon, we must admit Egypt is changing. Egypt’s Bassem Youssef was named among the most influential 100 people in the world by Time magazine last week. If nothing at all, Bassem’s weekly show “El Bernameg,” which literally translates into “The Program” must be one of the strongest indications of the change in Egypt so far. With a rapidly growing following, Bassem, originally a trained heart surgeon turned political satirist, has captured the hearts and minds of more than 30 million and growing. His real claim to fame, other than a superb eye for the organically grown satire of rule in Egypt, is his ability to stay tuned and pinpoint the pulse of the confused and surreal events in the country. He is a rebel with a cause.
Egyptians have always enjoyed a keen sense of humor. Political jokes have been a means to relieve some of the stress and frustration and confront the tyranny of their rulers for decades. Serious joking, however, was rarely ever tolerated publicly; only with strict limitations and in masked innuendos. Daily newspaper cartoons, depicting public officials and making fun of them are not uncommon. Like the Egyptian Revolution they were all a part of, access to the Internet gave Bassem and his team the ability to spread beyond any censorship or control.
Bassem and his technically savvy team do much more than just make people laugh their heads off. Theirs is a well-thought-through, clear objective of uncovering the realities of the political situation, of creating public awareness and exposing misleading information and informants. Contrary to the dry conditioning programs of informing the public or even entertaining them, “El Bernameg” strips the masks off the pretentious and “peels off their crap,” as Bassem aptly explained in his speech at the Time 100 Gala. While making you laugh by digging deep beyond the apparent, “El Bernameg” entertains guests and provides creative insights while raising critical questions of the moment. To top the cake, he introduces the many talented, creative rising stars in music, giving them a chance to shine.
The program has not been without criticism and even some anger at its content. Bassem has already been legally accused and questioned for allegedly diminishing the president’s stature, among other charges. He got out on bail and is expected to face some other, more bizarre charges soon as he announced on his last appearance with Jon Stewart last week. His very symbolic anecdote of the joker in France who was poisoned by the priest in a very cunning way because he had been too popular “to kill or jail” was spot on as he delivered his humorous words at the Time 100 Gala.
“Our sarcasm is digging deep into their flesh,” he said as he ended his words with hope for Egypt, which he admits is going through some difficult times. He nevertheless shared his dream that one day the Time 100 Gala would take place in Cairo by the Great Pyramids of Giza.
Bassem is yet another clear example of an Egyptian who dared follow his dream and created success.
Inspired by Jon Stewart, he is an inspiration to many as his popular program continues to expose the fake rhetoric of those struggling for power in Egypt.