Bassem Youssef, the famous host of an Egyptian satire news show, is being sued. Bassem is no hero of mine, and there are countless others who share my view. Facebook is riddled with pages and groups who declare their lack of affection for Bassem Youssef. The former heart surgeon has been gaining fans and building an audience throughout the Arab world with his jokes and zingers. At the get-go, I loved his jokes and delivery. I thought he was the missing breeze of comedy the Arab world has been missing.
This all changed when his show turned political. I am tired of stories circulating around the Internet that conservative Muslims are the ones who want Bassem Youssef in jail. There is no doubt that a lot of conservative Muslims love to hate him. But if you think about it, if President Morsi had complete control over the legal system, why do the judges and officers keep challenging him on daily basis? There are those who hate his use of sexual innuendos on prime time. But I think it's safe to say, a lot of business people also want to see him in jail. His astounding success has invited envy from Egypt's cut-throat media industry. Just ask Hala Sarhan, an American-educated TV presenter who was sued in 2007 on charges similar to Youssef's. There are also personalities who cannot take a joke and feel offended by remarks made by Youssef.
Every night of the week, Bassem Youssef finds a way to call President Morsi an idiot. During the day he does the same over Twitter. In a statement, the Egyptian presidency has denied bringing a claim against him and declared its support for the freedom of speech. He has mounting legal troubles and he has a team of top-tier attorneys by his side. This is no crisis. Rather, it is a compliment to the Egyptian judicial system. While Youssef's show is about jokes, what is not is not a joke is the laws of defamation and libel in Egypt. Even here, while there are certainly more liberties, you could be in serious legal trouble if someone has a strong case against you. (I'm looking at you Bill Maher and Donald Trump.)
I like what Bassem Youssef has done with his show. I often boast about being the first person to blog about his show. I thought he was doing real comedy as Egyptian state TV at that time was a farce. I read a Twitter message from one famous pop diva speaking on Youssef's questioning, "All The Free People of The World Stand right behind you." I think such statements should be saved for genuine heroes and not TV hosts who are making a lot of money to joke around. While he talks about Egypt's woes, his bank account gets fatter and so does his social media presence. Meanwhile, Egypt's poor are getting poorer.
Youssef is not doing his show for free. He has a contract worth millions, and with that comes a great deal of prestige and access. Surely he enjoys the fame and media attention he receives from around the world. He has more friends outside of Egypt than inside of it. It's not a secret that Egypt is experiencing some volatile times. In my judgment the last thing the country needs is a polarizing voice that has made a career of picking on the president every night. Bassem Youssef has made a lot of enemies, and not all of them hate him for his speech. Reports that he has the American Ambassador in Egypt on speed dial do not really reflect the level of patriotism that has been sweeping across Egypt recently. Some observers have pointed out to how certain Arab and non-Arab media outlets are using this ordeal to further damage Egypt and get back at presidency.
I have a hunch. Had Bassem Youssef been a vocal supporter of the president of Egypt, CNN wouldn't bother with him. It's all about self-interest. Such outlets follow Bassem only because he is causing trouble in Egypt and because he is critical of the democratically elected president. He is entitled to do all that. Still, I remember during the run-up to the war in Iraq, few, if any, in the American media dared to speak out against the president and his ill-fated plan to invade Iraq.
What Egypt's Jon Stewart needs to realize is that those media folks who are cheering him on will be with him only as long as he remains relevant to their interests.
Now, I do not want to see him jailed for he says. He should not have to be subjected to a witch hunt. But he needs to know that his fame and success also bring the risk of criticism and exposure. If he tries to rock the boat too much he will be shown the door. I doubt his legal troubles will take a serious turn and if they do, I am certain he would not have a hard time moving his show. I would like to see his show continue; there is so much absurdity in the world to ridicule and it does not have to be all Egyptian-centered material. Egypt has done enough talking. Progress now requires action, not satire.
Egypt stands at a critical juncture, and Bassem Youssef is taking advantage rather than playing a helping role. It only takes one deranged person to ruin the reputation of an entire nation. Bassem Youssef has entertained so many people and in the process has mocked all things that make Egypt the place loved by so many people.
Bassem Youssef is milking his five minutes of fame, and his friends are talking about him as if he is some modern-day Martin Luther King Jr. MLK did not have a million-dollar contract. MLK did not insult people for money. MLK did not try to embarrass his foes. Let's stop pretending Youssef is fighting the good fight. He is just fighting for a paycheck.
Follow Hani Almadhoun on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@hotarabicmusic