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Egypt has 'many red lines': Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef

Youssef, originally a heart surgeon, wrapped his show in 2014 under increasing pressure not to criticise Egypt's authorities

Ahram Online , Wednesday 17 Jun 2015
Popular Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef talks during a news conference in Cairo in this June 2, 2014 file photo (Photo: Reuters)

Renowned TV host and satirist Bassem Youssef said in an interview aired on CNN International earlier this week that Egypt has "many, many red lines".

“These red lines can come back and bite you,” he told famous CNN TV host Becky Anderson.

Youssef, originally a heart surgeon, gained widespread popularity for his satirical news show El-Bernameg, on YouTube and then on television after the January 2011 revolution. But last year, he wrapped his show amid increasing pressure not to criticise Egypt's authorities.

In an episode for her show Connect the World, Becky Anderson, reporting from Egypt, asked Youssef, live from Dubai, to what extent satire could be used to fight extremist groups like the so-called Islamic State (IS) group in the region. 

"There are people who [have gone] much further than I ever went before," he said. "There are cartoonists, there are actors… There are people [making] their own videos making fun of the big evil in the world right now, which is IS. They have done stuff that I didn't have the chance to do."

“Satire is an incredible weapon, because basically it takes down this kind of fear from the hearts of the people," he said, "and when you take away the fear through laughter, they are not scary anymore.”

"Part of the fight against IS should be through art, through comedy, through satire, through freedom of speech and expression," he said.

Of IS, he said, "I do not care if they are [acting] 'in the name of religion', or Islam, or anything else. Killing people and taking their freedom is unjust under any name." 

Youssef is currently a resident fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics.

Islamists were often targets of his TV show's biting satire during the one-year-rule of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi, which ended with the president's ouster in July 2013. Several lawsuits, including blasphemy lawsuits, were filed against him. 

In 2014, Youssef suspended his show, which last aired on the Saudi-owned channel MBC Misr, after he came under political pressure not to criticise the post-Morsi authorities.

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