The Lede blog, part of The New York Times, interviews Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef on his recently cancelled television show El Barnameg, Egypt’s political future, and ongoing media censorship after Egypt’s revolution.
Here are a few excerpts from the interview:
ON HIS CANCELLED SECOND SEASON:
Q: Your show was abruptly pulled off the air on Nov. 1, just minutes before the second episode of the second season was supposed to be broadcast. There was a great deal of speculation that you might have angered the military with your season premiere, or that you might have angered the management of your former network, CBC. What happened?
A: The official story for that was that the channel pulled us off air because of financial reasons. That’s their side of the story. We don’t understand how this will be grounds because we already delivered the episode as we were supposed to. That would make sense if we did not continue shooting, but they just cut us off. They did not even give us a chance to abide by our side of the contract. Were they being pressured? They said they weren’t. Did the upper circles of power dictate that? There is no proof that this happened. Were the lower circles of power thinking they made favors for the upper circles of power, and they told them to do that and they responded? Maybe. But we don’t know.
Bassem Youssef (l) with Jon Stewart earlier this year.
ON EGYPTIAN MEDIA:
Q: What role has the Egyptian media played in the country’s political life since Morsi’s ouster in July?
Many of the Egyptian anchors went to the extreme. The narrative they have been using was quite provocative, inciting more violence and hate. Sometimes you can understand that because some of these people were on a hit list. I was one of those people on a hit list if Morsi would have continued. So maybe they took it on a more emotional level, because everybody went into survival mode. But some of them really took it too hard, and the one thing that really bothers me is the lack of professionalism of these people. I mean, you’re entitled to say whatever opinion you want even if it [angers] a lot of people, but a lot of them are using fake news from Facebook or Twitter, and using fake websites to prove a point. And that’s not honest. That’s my biggest problem with these news outlets.
ON EGYPTIAN CENSORSHIP:
Q: Do you ever feel intimidated by your opponents? Do you engage in self-censorship sometimes, or spend much time thinking about what you could and could not put on the air?
A: There is self-censorship everywhere. Everybody has his own self-censorship. Even during Morsi’s rule, we were very careful about what to put on air because at that time you were dealing with the red line of religion, and a lot of people are very sensitive about religion. Now you are dealing with the red line of the military. People are very sensitive about the red line of the military. It’s not more or less, it’s just different. And you have to understand that we have never been as polarized as now. The thing is, we are trying to make as much sense as possible for the most people. You won’t do it, you will fail most of the time, but you do your best.
It’s difficult times, and maybe it’s the worst time to have a political satire show. It’s not a relaxed, laid-back environment. That hasn’t been there for the past three years. It’s very difficult. You have sectarian violence, you have terrorism, you have street violence, how can you actually make fun of this? That is my greatest challenge. To make people laugh during this. It’s very hard.
The rest of the interview can be read here.