Christopher Lee

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Why Egypt’s Morse Can’t Get The Joke

10 April 2013

Have you heard the gag about a revolutionary government that couldn’t get the joke so they arrested the comedian?  If you haven’t, read on and you will and you’d better, because it’s no laughing matter.

There’s a guy here called Bassem Youseff.  Youseff does satire. His problem, or the Muslim Brotherhood’s problem is that he does good satire.  Worse, he does it on TV – show called al-Bernameg – The Programme.

Afficionados of  Orwell’s 1984 will sense the drama in that very ordinary title. It gets worse and worse.  

You see Youseff’s show gets 30 million viewers. That’s big viewing. World networks would love those ratings but world networks would not like to live in the scary post Arab Spring atmosphere that gets 30 million tuning in to the truth – or the nearest they’re likely to get.  Why Bassem Youseff?  He was there in Tahrir Square in 2011.  The people discovered his razor wire humour.  They trust him.  They don’t trust government as they thought they were going to and government does not trust Yuseff and a whole bunch of other people who still taste freedom.

Not surprising then that a couple of weeks back the government prosecutor general, Talaat Abdallah issued an arrest warrant for Youseff. He was taken in a grilled for three hours then let out on bail.  

The point here is that he has a go at officials, clerics and even the President, Mohamed Morsi.  But on Tuesday this week, a Cairo court threw out a case against the TV funny man. The charge was dropped.  The judges behaved like an independent judiciary, the basis for any hope of democracy.  

The government of Morsi doesn’t get it. No smiles. Fury. Morsi’s lot are something of an hostile audience.  But they have a problem: Egyptians have always had a sense of humour – otherwise why build the Sphinx but don’t leave a clue to what she’s smiling at? Mind you, that was old Egypt of amazing technicolor dreamcoat, pyramids and curses.

Bassem Youseff is their Dreamcoat Jospeh; he’s something of a hero.  He’s the only one they’ve got.

But Morsi’s people are really wanting to get the show closed. They want the judges to tear up the licence of the broadcaster, Capital Broadcasting. From this you can get the feeling that there’s more to this crackdown.  It’s not just one man against authority. Mohamed el-Baradi the main opposition leader says its bunker mentality.  The lawyers themselves are next in line. Morsi won’t like that and could go for el-Baredi’s people.

The world human rights systems will start monitoring even more closely what happened to the Egyptian Spring.  Start taking out the media and the judiciary the people will be back in the square. That is about to happen. That’s not at all funny.

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