Bassem Youssef, Egypt’s Jon Stewart, is off the air

Youssef said his show will not be returning to television. (European Pressphoto Agency)

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.

Erin Cunningham is an Egypt-based correspondent for The Post. She previously covered conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan for the Christian Science Monitor, GlobalPost and The National.



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments

Sign up for email updates from the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

You have signed up for the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

Thank you for signing up
You'll receive e-mail when new stories are published in this series.
Most Read World



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Next Story
Adam Taylor · June 2, 2014

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.