TV Satirist Bassem Youssef

"People should be able to listen to different opinions"

The political satire show "AlBernameg" attracted millions of Arab viewers each week before it was suddenly cancelled in November 2013. On Friday 7 February 2014, it returned to Egyptian TV screens on MBC Egypt. Jaafar Abdul-Karim and Khalid El Kaoutit spoke to its host and star, Bassem Youssef

Last time, your show was cancelled after just one episode. What's different this time?

Bassem Youssef: We only just finished producing, so if it's canned today, it would be like a false start [laughs]. I still hope that everything goes well, and I hope the decision makers are intelligent and reasonable enough not to make a fuss just because it's a satirical show.

There are people who criticise the show and say it's inappropriate to focus so much on political satire and criticism, and that at such a critical time for Egypt, everyone should stick together instead.

Youssef: I wonder who decides how much is too much? Who says it's not a suitable time for political satire? When would be a better time? Six months ago they also said it wasn't the right time. And one month ago the same thing, and today. How long are we supposed to keep saying that it's not the right time? And where's the benchmark? You could spend a year saying the time isn't right. Every country has its problems, but that's no reason to say it's not the right time for political satire.

Are there certain issues that you've tried to steer clear of in this first episode?

Youssef: Which topics should we have avoided? We've been off air for six months, and a lot has happened in that time. So please reserve your judgment until the end of the season, not after a single episode.

Journalists Phil Moore, right, and Jessica Hatcher, left (photo: picture-alliance/dpa)
Nairobi-based foreign correspondents Phil Moore (R) and Jessica Hatcher (L) protesting against the imprisonment in Egypt of Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste. On 29 January 2014, Egyptian prosecutors referred 20 people, including four foreigners, from the Al Jazeera TV network to trial for allegedly harming national security and spreading false news. The foreigners charged in the case include the Australian Peter Greste, a former BBC correspondent, who was arrested on 29 December, along with two Britons and a Dutch national

At the moment Egypt is quite a dangerous place for journalists. Many networks have red lines. How important is your programme for freedom of expression, particularly for young journalists?

Youssef: It's important to have other opinions out there. People should also be able to listen to different opinions. If the media always presents the same views, the people will turn their back on the media. It would be better if there was a kind of political movement. But I can understand that many people are scared and say it's not appropriate to broadcast differing opinions right now. I can understand that – in times when anxiety and fear prevail, it's always difficult to argue with logic, let alone with satire.

You are perhaps the most famous personality in the Arab world at the moment…

Youssef: … thank you!

…people have certain expectations of you, they want to know what you're doing, how you are…

Youssef: … I try, and don't always succeed, to leave all the stress at work, so I can go home and sleep. It's pointless burdening yourself with all this pressure all day long. I try not to think about it too much. Last year was really stressful, and I hope this year will be better. The only pressure I really feel isn't political. It comes from wanting to live up to my expectations and present a really good show.

How has your life changed?

Youssef: I can't just freely walk on the street anymore. I don't have a private life. There's only work, and I spend the rest of my time with my wife and daughter. I don't go out as much. And as a public personality, people always point at you, and you're always getting accused of having said something or other.

Any final words?

Youssef: I just want to say to everyone, please take this show with humour and open-mindedness. Please don't get annoyed – there's nothing in the world that's worth getting angry about! Have fun!

Interview conducted by Jaafar Abdul-Karim and Khalid El Kaoutit

© Deutsche Welle 2014

Editors: Rob Mudge/DW.de and Aingeal Flanagan/Qantara.de

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