Speech crimes are mark of totalitarian regimes: Egypt's Bassem Youssef

Ahram Online , Sunday 14 Apr 2013

Bassem Youssef speaks to Al Arabiya TV channel revealing that he wants to host President Morsi in his show

Bassem Youssef
Egyptian TV host Bassem Youssef arrives at Cairo's High Court in satirical style poking fun at President Mohamed Morsi by wearing a mock graduation cap similar to one worn by the Egyptian leader when he received an honorary doctorate in Pakistan in March (Photo: facebook.com/11FebFront)

In an interview on private Saudi television channel to be broadcast Monday, popular television host and satirist Bassem Youssef criticised the Egyptian government and spoke out against the decision to prosecute him on charges related to offensive speech.

Sitting down with satellite news channel Al-Arabiya, the Egyptian satirist and television host spoke frankly, saying that if the Egyptian regime considers him to be a clown, why do they fear him?

According to Youssef, the charges he is currently facing do not exist except under "totalitarian regimes.”

Youssef, 39, was charged with insulting the president, blasphemy and spreading hateful rumours two weeks ago. He posted 15,000 LE bail and was not detained.

The interview will be aired on Monday, but excerpts were shown on Sunday, and the transcript was published on Al-Arabiya’s website.

"If my television show brings down a regime, then the regime is weak and does not deserve to continue. I have not heard of a television show ever managing to bring any regime down before, anywhere in the world," said Youssef during the interview.

Referencing Minister of Information Salah Abdel-Maksoud's criticism of Youssef and his show, Youssef invited Abdel-Maksoud to write the script of his show ‘El-Bernameg’ (The Programme).

Youssef also spoke about his recent decision to put his show on hold for two weeks.

"This decision has nothing to do with political pressure. My team has been working for nine months with no vacation and as Easter, Sinai Liberation Day and Sham El-Nassim [an Egyptian national holiday] are coming up, it is a good opportunity to have a vacation."

Youssef said that he will be travelling to the United States to attend an event. He also added that the show will go off air during the month of Ramadan.

The satirist also confirmed that the producer of the show, Tarek Qazzaz, has allegiances to the Muslim Brotherhood.

"Tarek Qazzaz comes from a Muslim Brotherhood family, yet we have been friends for more than 13 years. He does not interfere in my work as a host nor in the content of the show, and I do not interfere in his work as a producer," he said.

Youssef added that he does not know if President Mohamed Morsi has seen his show or not, but said that he would love to have him on.

"I tried to host him in the first episode of the show but the circumstances did not allow it,” he said.

"Hosting the president will send an important message that criticising the president in a comic way does not mean that there is enmity," he said.

Youssef also defended himself from recent accusations that a segment in the show two weeks ago was insulting to Qatar.

"I said at the end of the show that no one is accusing or attacking Qatar; after all, its people knew how to build their country. The episode was actually criticising the state Egypt is in," he said.

"It is not about Qatar, it is about how we became a ‘beggar’ regime, welcoming Qatari and Emirati investments. The Egyptian regime claims to have a project for renaissance, then asks for help," Youssef said, adding that the current regime has managed to alienate the opposition and the majority of Egyptians, causing the current political crisis.

Youssef is a cardiac surgeon who initially found fame on YouTube after the January 2011 uprising. His unique style of satirical news commentary was picked up by Egyptian television channels later that year.

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