CAIRO — Egypt's most popular comedian and television personality, political satirist Bassem Youssef, is officially off the air. But unlike the other breaks Youssef has taken in the nearly three years since he started broadcasting his hour-long "Al Bernameg" program, this time the surgeon-turned-funny man won't be coming back.
Youssef announced Monday from his studio in downtown Cairo that he had decided to end the widely watched program, which was modeled after Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show." Youssef gave few details but alluded to "harassment" and other pressures on him and his broadcaster, MBC Masr, since a military coup ousted elected President Mohamed Morsi last summer.
Since then, a wave of state-led repression has eliminated the space for dissent and sent tens of thousands of Morsi supporters and other activists to prison. When Youssef returned to the air on the private Egyptian channel CBC last fall, the network broadcast just one episode before distancing itself from Youssef's humor and then announcing that it had dropped his show for breach of contract.
Earlier in 2013, Egypt's public prosecutor had opened an investigation into Youssef for insulting Morsi, who was president at the time. Youssef, who started his program on YouTube after Egypt's uprising in 2011, has skewered local politicians and other prominent figures here for years. He became both a voice and comedic outlet for the pro-democracy activists who felt marginalized by the country's increasingly authoritarian politics.
But taking aim at President-elect Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, the coup leader and revered former defense minister, is what finally sealed Youssef's fate. While the Saudi-owned MBC Masr picked up Youssef's show in February, Saudi Arabia is one of Sissi's primary financial backers. The specifics of the decision to end the show remain unclear, but what is clear is that freedom of expression in Egypt was just dealt another blow.
Last year, Youssef was in the United States, where he was awarded the International Press Freedom Award by the Committee to Protect Journalists. You can watch his acceptance speech in the video below.