VIDEO – Political satire apparently knows no borders, based on the recent appearance of Jon Stewart,
host of America’s hit political satire program "The Daily Show," on Egyptian television’s "Al Bernameg," ("The Program") that is frequently described as “the Egyptian Jon Stewart program.”
Host Bassem Youssef introduced his special guest dressed as a captured spy, with a black hood covering Stewart's head. The move was a jab at recent calls by Egyptian military and political officials to be wary of foreign spies seeking to spread chaos throughout Egypt.
Youssef himself is a physician who gave up medicine to host his own political satire show on Egyptian satellite TV's CBC channel. He mainly pokes fun at the Muslim Brotherhood's
regime and its officials, serving as a voice for the Egyptian opposition following the June 2012 presidential elections.
Youssef's first program aired on November 8, 2011, with a series of shows streamed by YouTube before moving to Satellite TV – which also screens "The Daily Show" – a few weeks later.
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"Youssef had invited Stewart to come on the show the last time they met in America. It turned out that Stewart was filming in Jordan
recently, and he only came to Egypt for 18 hours," "Al Bernameg" producer Mohamed Fathy explained to The Media Line.
Asked why Stewart had hinted he was Jewish, Fathy said he was sure Egyptians understood what Stewart meant, and that it was good to promote religious tolerance in Egypt. He suggested that Egypt's main cultural problem is the lack of education and the high rate of illiteracy.
In addition to the hood, Stewart came on-stage wearing a suit, sporting a scruffy beard, and offering his opening line in the viewers’ language. "I am a simple man. I don't like to be put on a pedestal," he said in Arabic.
Youssef and Stewart are famous in both countries for targeting their presidents. "If your regime isn't strong enough to handle a joke, then you have no regime," Stewart said on the show.
Youssef, often described as Egypt's equivalent to Stewart, was himself summoned for questioning by an Egyptian court after being accused of blasphemy and insulting the Egyptian president. His experience focused attention on the basic freedoms of speech and press that are still not fully accepted by Egyptian law. His popularity in Egypt, however, compares to Stewart's own in the United States with 1.4 million fans on Facebook and nearly 850,000 Youssef followers on Twitter.
Not everyone amused by Jewish appearance
Stewart mentioned on the program that he is Jewish, declaring that he "likes to wander like my people" did in the Egyptian desert for 40 years. "I have been traveling for two weeks, and I've got 38 years and 50 weeks left,” he quipped.
Not everyone was amused by the Jewish Stewart's appearance on Egyptian television. Egypt was known for many years of religious tolerance, but hatred against Jews began after the coup that ousted King Farouk in 1952, and replaced him with dictator Gamal Abel Nasser. Today, there are roughly 100 Egyptian Jews
remaining in Egypt.
Sally Taha, a human resources manager at a local sports marketing company, told The Media Line that, "I liked the show, and I liked the fact that it was light. I just didn't like that a foreigner is making fun of the current Egyptian government even though I don't like the Muslim Brotherhood." When asked about her views of Jews, she replied, "I don't hate Jews, and I am not afraid of them, but I don't like them. I leave it to God to punish or reward them."
Mohamed Saied is a waiter at the Akasya café in Maadi. He said, "I haven't seen this episode with Jon Stewart, but I knew about it. Because of work I couldn't watch it."
When asked about his views on Jews he replied, “I don't really have any problems with Jews, they're just people like us… In the last years before the revolution, Mubarak was pushing towards more acceptance to Jews and Israel,
but with the Muslim Brotherhood government, I don't know what to think. The president has views towards collaboration with Israel and respecting the peace treaty, but speakers on TV are against it.”
Law student Heba Gamal told The Media Line that "the problem we are facing isn't Bassem or Jon, it's the fact that as Muslims we are supposed to respect all religions and faiths, whether it is Christianity or Judaism. We are becoming stupid and acting like ignorant people from the Dark Ages. Now, any foreigner is accused of being a spy and promoted as such by local media and officials, and anyone who isn't like us is an infidel."
During his appearance on the program, Stewart also spoke about BBC Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari, the subject of the film he is making called "Then They Came for Me: A Family's Story of Love, Captivity and Survival."
Bahari, an Iranian journalist and activist, was imprisoned in 2009 for 18 months after Daily Show faux-correspondent "John Johnson" interviewed him in an Iranian café during Iran's presidential election. Stewart is on hiatus from "The Daily Show" while he works on the film.
Even more material for satire
While many Egyptians watch "Al Bernameg," not many are familiar with "The Daily Show" or with Stewart. Egyptian journalist Baher Ghorab told The Media Line "I don't really care about Jon's visit to Egypt, but it seems that he has a message for the Egyptian people, and that is that America is coming and will take over, even the program itself."
He explained that the Americans are anxious to see democratic developments in Egypt and for democracy to succeed and replace old dictatorial habits, even if the Americans have to send their own people to the Middle East to make sure it happens.
Indeed, during the last minute of the show, Stewart joked about taking Youssef's job. There was a mock appearance of Jon taking Bashem's seat, and an announcement that from now on Stewart would be the show's host.
Asked about the American’s visit, business executive Anwar Elsewedy told The Media Line, "I know him from a few years ago. I like to watch "The Daily Show." I think Jon Stewart's visit means that he and America now support the opposition, and not as previously believed that America only supports the Muslim Brotherhood. Also, Bassem Youssef is an iconic figure for the opposition, and bringing Jon Stewart to the show indicates that the international community and America are with the opposition."
Youssef should soon have even more material to work with for his satire. The controversy surrounding Stewart's visit comes just weeks before what some are saying will be a nationwide revolt on Election Day, June 30, aimed at toppling the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice party, and requesting early presidential elections.
Foreign intelligence reports and US Embassy warnings to its citizens who are in Egypt, also foresee the impeachment of President Mohamed Morsi,
who will complete one full year in office on that day. Clashes are expected between Morsi’s Islamist supporters and the opposition parties all over Egypt, perhaps yielding even more grist for Youssef's satiric mill.