Freedoms in Egypt questioned after El-Bernameg's suspension

Ahram Online, Saturday 2 Nov 2013

Politicians, film-makers and media representatives comment on the suspension of Bassem Youssef's show El-Bernameg; voices on social networks call for boycott of CBC channel

Bassem Youssef
Graffiti of Egyptian satirical comedian Bassem Youssef dressed as a clown. Written underneath the words of poet Salah Jahin: “I am the clown, why did you leave? Why are you scared? I have no sword in my hands nor a horse underneath, oh my!” (Facebook)

The suspension of Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef's show "El-Bernameg" by privately-owned channel CBC has drawn widespread critcism from public figures, many expressing their concern regarding the future of Freedoms in Egypt.

Minutes before millions were expecting El-Bernameg’s second episode of the third season on Friday, a statement was read by the host channel saying El-Bernameg would not air as expected, claiming Youssef and his producer had "violated what had been agreed upon" with the channel, as well as CBC's "editorial policies."

The statement added that the show will remain off air until editorial and commercial disputes with Youssef are resolved.

“If only I were minister of information, I would have invited Bassem Youssef to host his show on state TV,” said Law professor and Head of Cairo University Gaber Nassar via Twitter on Friday night, adding that the suspension affirms that the relationship of businessmen to media outlets is an issue that needs to be revised.

Mohamed Abdel-Hameed, one of the audience members who attended the recording of the banned-episode on Wednesday, told Ahram Online that Bassem had "ridiculed CBC's two-faced attitude towards his show after they issued a statement disagreeing with the content of the episode.”

“He made it very clear that whatever ******** reason they had is redundant, as they aired "Hekayet Hayah" in Ramadan, which according to their 'code' should have been banned,” said Abdel-Hameed, referring to a TV series aired on CBC last August that drew criticism for containing foul language and sexual intimation, which many perceived as inappropriate for an Egyptian audience.

“In the last part [of the banned episode] he said, if the government thinks I am a threat to national security, they should give me a call and I'll stop the show, adding that he didn’t think the country is that fragile,” added Abdel-Hameed.

The dispute began following Youssef’s first episode, which came after an almost three month hiatus, stirring controversy after the popular satirist poked fun at supporters of the General Commander of the Armed Forces Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi, whose popularity soared after the ouster of Mohamed Morsi on 3 July.

According to Egyptian filmmaker Amr Salama, the suspension of El-Bernameg has exposed a lot.

“Now the January 25 revolution and its gains are officially being fought; just as they were abused by the Muslim Brotherhood, now they are being usurped by those whose interests they conflict,” added Salama on his Twitter account.

Others have hinted that the decision behind the ban could have been influenced by the authorities.

Human Rights lawyer Gamal Eid argued via Twitter that the decision is “an intervention from the military institution.”

The April 6 Youth movement has accused military authorities via Twitter of “monopolising media sources in Egypt and not wanting any criticism.”

Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesman Ahmed El-Muslimany asserted that the presidency respects freedom of opinion and speech, and that any decision to ban the show is “an internal matter,” that is up to the channel.

“As long as there is no court ruling for its suspension … no one should accept the ban because they disagree with El-Bernameg’s content,” Khaled Talima, assistant minister of Youth and TV anchor said on his official Facebook page.

Talima further described the decision as a “stupid,” saying it only serves “slaves of fake stability.”

“Freedom of expression is the mother of all freedoms; if it is limited to those we agree with, then it is a hollow slogan. Courage is in supporting [Freedom of expression] and not in oppressing it. A salute of appreciation to Bassem Youssef,” said Nobel laureate and former vice-president Mohamed ElBaradei.

Founding member of the grassroots campaign Tamarod that led to Morsi’s ouster, Mahmoud Badr, added his voice in opposition to the banning of the show on his Twitter accounts.

“If you ban Bassem from TV, how will you ban him from YouTube… How will you ban him from the streets and us from watching him?” said Badr.

The voices of discontent did not stop at criticising CBC's decision to ban the episode. A call on social networks calling for the boycotting of the channel has gone viral.

Another take

Meanwhile, the ban was viewed as legitimate by others, including the Chairman of CBC’s board of directors, Mohamed Al-Amin, who told Al-Ahram's Arabic news website on Friday night that Youssef did not respect a statement issued last Saturday by the satellite channel following his first episode aired on 25 October.

In the statement, the channel distanced itself from views expressed during Youssef's first episode, which drew wide criticism from several political factions, particularly military supporters. The channel asserted that they are “keen on not using phrases and innuendos that may lead to mocking national sentiment or symbols of the Egyptian state.”

“The decision taken by the channel to suspend El-Bernameg is in accordance with the media code of ethics,” explained Al-Amin.

This is not the first time CBC has suspended Youssef's show. In 2012, the channel banned the first season's second episode, during which Youssef mocked famous CBC presenters, as well as then-president Mohamed Morsi.

Youssef later uploaded the banned episode from the first season to YouTube, but took it down after three hours, due to a contractural agreement with CBC not to upload episodes unless first approved by the station, according to a production member at El-Bernameg. However, at this point, the show had been shared by others.

There have been no official statements yet from Youssef or any of his crew regarding the suspension of the recent show and the episode has not been uploaded online.

Sociology professor at the American University in Cairo, Iman Bastawisi, told Al-Ahram that she sees no restriction on Freedoms in the decision to stop El-Bernameg.

“The channel has the right to protect its editorial policies … There are limits to preserve  society, its principles, morals and symbols,” said Bastawisi, who expressed her discontent concerning sexual intimations used in Youssef’s show.

Business Tycoon Naguib Sawiris and former owner of ONTV channel, where Youssef hosted the first season of his show before signing with CBC, has criticised the attention Youssef’s suspended episode is garnering.

“What is more important, Morsi’s trial or the suspension of Bassem Youssef's episode?  - or how we rebuild Egypt and get rid of poverty and become a strong, independent nation?” asked Sawiras via Twitter.

Following El-Bernameg's first episode, a graffiti image of Youssef dressed as a clown, accompanied by a poem written by renowned late Egyptian poet Salah Jahin circulated online. After the ban, it went viral. The poem reads:

“I am the clown, why did you leave? Why are you scared? I have no sword in my hands nor a horse underneath, oh my!”

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