Thursday, March 07, 2013

BookFabulous Pickings: Bassem Youssef

Yesterday, judging by my very short post (announcement really) I did have time on my hands to browse the internet and catch up on reading some paper clippings I'd left to the side for a more thorough reading, as you would! Anyway, to cut a long story short, I happened upon an online article about Bassem Youssef carried out by The Guardian in May 2012.

Now, if like myself, you do not live in the Middle East, in this case Egypt, then you might not be familiar with this personality who has swept the Arab World by storm. A heart surgeon, Bassem Youssef has swapped his doctor's garb for swanky suits to host one of Egypt's most politically satirical programs ever shown on Egyptian satellite channels named 'Al-Bernameg" (literally translated as 'The Programme'). It is a show that pokes fun namely at politicians, and people in authority in Egypt as well as other television personalities with the occasional guest appearance of well-known Arab entertainment stars attending as spectators in the audience or as guests to be interviewed on the show.  He also attempts quite convincing impersonations of various political figures. 'Al-Bernameg' is currently broadcast on CBC, a privately-owned satellite channel.

Bassem Youssef as Mohamed ElBaradei
The show is presented in Arabic and is close in format to that of America's 'Daily Show' hosted by Jon Stewart, a fact that Bassem is quick to proudly confirm in his interviews. He once openly admitted when asked that indeed he is a real fan of Stewart  and it would be a real honor to meet the man himself to share tips on how to make 'Al-Bernameg' an even more sterling show; not that Bassem seems to need any help in that regard at all. The popularity of the show has proved incredible and the fact that it is in its new season proves that it remains a major show hitting its mark over and over again. Youssef has since been a guest on Stewart's show.

However, the program's success is understandably accompanied with its own set of problems and most of all controversy. One can even argue that controversy is the main ingredient for its success. The recipe for the program is simple enough: You make everyone a target but some people are better targets to aim at than others, especially if your target happens to be Egypt's recently-elected President Mursi or the party of the Islamic Brotherhood to which the President belongs to. So far, Youssef has been hit with two defamation lawsuits concerning Egypt's president, a fact contested by the supporters of the program who look upon such lawsuits as the government's unease  at being criticised and even its total backtracking on promises to allow freedom of speech in the country. To understand where Youssef is coming from, it would do well to read a debate that he participated in hosted at the American University of Cairo and reported in the Egypt's Daily News. To read the article, click HERE.

You can watch episodes of "The Programme - البرنامج" by clicking HERE and to hear an interview with him on CNN in English, click HERE.

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