CAIRO — Mohamed Morsi did not enjoy being ridiculed on television as president. With the election of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the laughter has stopped.
Bassem Youssef, a comedian whose satire of the politically powerful became emblematic of freedom in post-revolutionary Egypt, said Monday that he was ending his popular weekly television show, citing unspecified political pressure and threats. “We consider the shutting down of the show a message in itself that is stronger, clearer and much louder than its continuation,” he said. “The message is delivered.”
“I am tired of struggling and worrying and fearing for my personal safety and the safety of my family,” he added. “When we are censored and harmed,” he said, people will show solidarity only through “hashtags and retweets.”
Mr. Youssef did not mention Mr. Sisi, the former general who removed Mr. Morsi last year and who won the presidency last week in an old-school Arab election (getting more than 95 percent of the vote). There is no public evidence that Mr. Sisi played a role in pushing Mr. Youssef off the air.
But Mr. Sisi had already made clear that his sense of humor had strict limits. In his first television interview as a candidate in the presidential race, he said he would “endure” respectful criticism but not if it was “offensive.”
“There is a law” against insulting the president, he said, and “it will be enforced.”
Mr. Youssef had won acclaim around the world for lampooning excesses. Trained as a heart surgeon, he had become a devoted fan of “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.” So when the uprising against President Hosni Mubarak broke out in 2011, Mr. Youssef began recording his own mock-news show from his spare room and broadcasting it over YouTube. He called it “The B+ Show,” after his blood type. And he poked indiscriminate fun at Mr. Mubarak, Egypt’s aging strongman, his sycophantic loyalists, the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood and the young activists of Tahrir Square as well.
The Arab world had never seen anything like it. A series of private satellite channels agreed to carry his show. Mr. Stewart had Mr. Youssef on as a guest and appeared on Mr. Youssef’s show as well.
After Mr. Morsi’s election in 2012, Mr. Youssef turned most of his jokes on Mr. Morsi and his most pious supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood.
In one episode, Mr. Youssef appeared in a clownish black-and-gold hat to parody one that Mr. Morsi wore to receive an honorary degree from a Pakistani university, and he spoofed the president’s meandering, conspiratorial speeches. After deriding the sanctimony of Egypt’s ultraconservative television preachers, Mr. Youssef earnestly challenged their religious authority.
“Just like you don’t consider us Muslims, to us, you’re not sheikhs or scholars,” he declared in one broadcast.
Morsi supporters filed complaints against Mr. Youssef for insulting the president, and a prosecutor opened an investigation, even summoning Mr. Youssef to testify. But in public statements Mr. Morsi had pledged to respect such freedom of expression, and his administration appeared unable or afraid to crack down on critics. Mr. Youssef gleefully mocked his arrest warrant.
Mr. Youssef supported the military takeover, but he quickly refocused on mocking its most zealous supporters, the ones who called anyone who referred to the takeover as a “coup” a traitor to Egypt or an Islamist “terrorist.”
“If you voice your opinion, you’re pulled away,” Mr. Youssef declared in a satirical song. “It means you are a terrorist and then you are foot whipped. It means you are Brotherhood, an agent, a coward, and American-backed as well!”
In the run-up to the presidential election, his Saudi-owned broadcaster had suspended his show in April, ostensibly to avoid influencing public opinion.
At his news conference Monday, Mr. Youssef held up a hand-painted sign: “The End.”
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(via NY Times)