Bassem Youssef, a famous Egyptian TV host and influential political satirist often called "the Jon Stewart of Egypt," was arrested last weekend on charges of "insulting Islam" and "belittling" President Mohamed Morsi. (He was later released on bail.) So it was probably inevitable that Stewart himself, the host of "The Daily Show," would address the incident on his show. The first of two segments on the incident is above; the second is below.
Stewart's treatment of the incident is witheringly funny, but he also asks the right question: with so many problems in Egypt right now -- an imploding economy, rising sexual assaults and street violence, plummeting tourism -- why is the government focusing its time and energy on arresting a popular satirist? What does this say about Morsi's priorities, much less his ability to govern a big and sometimes boisterous country?
Stewart gives Morsi the full "Daily Show" treatment, first by pointing out the hypocrisy of the charges; Morsi himself has insulted religion, calling for "hatred toward those Zionists and Jews." He then looks directly into the camera to lecture the Egyptian president.
"So Bassem Youssef pokes fun at your hat and your lack of promised democratic reforms," Stewart says. "What are you worried about? You’re the president of Egypt, you have an army. He has puns and a show, you have tanks and planes — we should know, we still have the receipts. Look, silencing a comedian doesn’t qualify you to be president of Egypt, just president of NBC." He adds, "When you are actually powerful, you don't need to be petty."
Not everyone is thrilled with Youssef's label as "the Jon Stewart of Egypt," though it may have helped win him Stewart's public defense and will probably stick even more after this incident. Isn't it selling Youssef short to label him as the Egyptian alternative to an American original? Isn't it a little Western-centric to think of him in American terms? And doesn't it downplay the uniquely Egyptian characteristics that make his show so important, such as his willingness to criticize a government that might lock him up?
Youssef has been on the "Daily Show" and, it's worth noting, has himself embraced the label of "Egypt's Jon Stewart." He told the New York Times in 2011, "We want it to be as close as possible to a Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert kind of show. Then we will try to modify it according to our culture, according to our topics." The label is also sometimes used in the Egyptian press. Still, it's important to keep in mind the things that make Youssef special. Stewart, after all, never has to worry about being imprisoned for making fun of his president's hat.