24 October 2017

Egypt: Digital Content Africa Z18 - Egyptian Political Satirist Bassem Youssef On Going From the B+ Show On You Tube to a Smash Hit Programme On Ontv and Then Being Banned

Egyptian cardiac surgeon Bassem Youssef didn't quite know what he was getting into when he launched his first political satire show B+ (his blood group) on You Tube. He imitated a show he admired - the Jon Stewart Show - mixing news and satire together. In less than 2 months he had 5 million views and the TV companies came knocking at his door.

His new show Al-Bernameg (roughly translated as The Programme) was signed up by ONTV, owned by Egyptian multi-millionaire Naguib Sawiris. After one season, it was both the most watched thing in Egypt on You Tube and the most watched on TV.

He then had the ultimate accolade of appearing on the Jon Stewart Show itself.

In August 2012, he decided to take the show to the next level and make it with a level audience. Meanwhile Jon Stewart repaid him the compliment and appeared on his show. By this stage, it had 30 million viewers every Friday night.

Interviewed at Deutsche Welle's Global Media Forum this week, he said that he reserved his best material for the now ousted President Morsi. The ex-President went to receive an honorary degree in Pakistan and wore a very unusual costume and a strange square hat. Youssef came on to his show wearing a ridiculously exaggerated version of the same costume. A warrant was issued for Bassem Youssef's arrest.

However, after the coup by Sisi and the military, Youssef continued to make fun of the new regime. This did not go down well with them and the TV channel pulled the show, citing contractual breaches. However, when it was on air it was jammed twice:"There were insurmountable pressures on the show and these resulted in it being banned."

However, as Youssef observed in his speech to the Global Media Forum:"Fear is a formula that has failed throughout history. It's just a moment in time and will be washed away by history". He joked that:"It's more of a generation struggle. It works because our parents still give us our pocket money."

He was asked whether he underestimated the power of his show:"We came after the Arab Spring. We were a manifestation of it, a result of it... .People say you overthrew the Morsi Government. If that's true, it was that the Morsi Government was very weak, not that we were a strong TV show."

He was asked about the accusation that he had participated in the exclusion of Islamists from the public discourse:"The Morsi Government was unsustainable. It was just a matter of time. We never supported anything undemocratic and we stayed on air. We were jammed twice and taken off twice but we continued saying what's wrong is wrong."

He said that people kept saying to him that it was too early for Egypt to have democracy and to have a show like his. He joked that he would ask these people to give him a date when Egypt would be ready:"It's always not a good time... This is the role of satire. It takes you out of your comfort zone."

He has decided not to continue doing the show:"It's too hot now." He said that he was offered various opportunities to do the show outside of Egypt but has refused because the moment you do, you lose credibility in a second. They start calling you a foreign spy and other things like that. But he said that the show continued to have an existence."People cut up our old episodes but with new jokes." The session interviewer Brent Goff (Agenda with Brent Goff) put it to him that laughter is the best medicine for bad politics and he agreed. He's currently looking at his options but he'll certainly be a man to watch.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, this type of political satire is best exemplified by the XYZ Show in Kenya, which (like its UK inspiration Spitting Image) uses foam puppets to laugh at politicians and the famous. New donor funding has also gone into its latest show Ogas a the Top about Nigeria and its politicians which is growing virally, again on You Tube. See link below for a video interview with Gado, the creator of the XYZ Show: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5nz8AWZDII

To understand more about the shifting role of the media in Egypt, click on the link below for an interview with Fatima el Issawi: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8kuQwsQ1VA

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