Egyptian TV station drops popular satire program critical of military

AP

A private Egyptian TV station stopped airing a widely popular political satire program Friday after the show came under fire for mocking the ultranationalist, pro-military fervor gripping the country.

CBC announced that the program by Bassem Youssef, who is often compared to the U.S. comedian Jon Stewart, would not be shown because the satirist and his producer had violated its editorial policies. The announcement came just minutes before Youssef’s show, “El-Bernameg” (“The Program”), was to air Friday night.

A broadcaster read a statement issued by the station’s board of directors saying that Youssef and the producer “insist on continuing to not commit to the editorial policy” of CBC, which he said is part of the contract.

The prerecorded weekly program had returned to the air a week earlier after a four-month hiatus during which Egypt’s military toppled Islamist President Mohammed Morsi after massive protests against his government. Youssef often mocked Morsi on the program, galvanizing public disenchantment with the leader.

His show a week ago strongly mocked the military fever now gripping Egypt and poked fun at military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

Military supporters immediately filed legal complaints against the show.

CBC, whose programming largely supported the coup, distanced itself from the program’s content. The channel said after the first show that it supports national sentiment and is “keen on not using phrases and innuendos that may lead to mocking national sentiment or symbols of the Egyptian state.” It did, however, say it was committed to freedom of expression. But the statement appeared to lay blame for any criticism of the show on Youssef and serve as a warning to the satirist.

In the episode that was to be aired Friday, Youssef had a retort. He spent a large segment of the program mocking CBC, including its editorial policies, the statement it put out against his last program and its choice of soap operas, those who watched the prerecorded episode said. It also made fun of other media outlets but hardly mentioned the government or the military.

Critics of Youssef staged a protest outside the theater where he was recording his program Wednesday and scuffled with his supporters. Riot police broke up the crowd.

Egypt’s prosecutors have launched investigations into complaints about Youssef’s show, including accusations that he disrupted public order and mocked Egypt and its military leaders. Youssef had been subjected to similar litigation when Morsi was in power. Morsi’s supporters had filed complaints about his program, accusing him of insulting the president and Islam, leading to him once being briefly detained.

The station deemed the program violated its instructions, a statement said Friday after it reviewed the content of the previous week’s episode. “After the angry reaction following the last episode, we notified the presenter and producer of the program on the need to abide by the guidelines in the statement” issued earlier, it said. The station also said Youssef had violated financial commitments, failed to keep to his commitments in the first season and demanded more money.

The suspension provoked immediate angry reaction, mostly directed at CBC. One group, the June 30 Front, called for a boycott of the station, hailing Youssef as a “dreamer of freedom” who puts a smile on the face of Egyptians. Others criticized the new sense of fear about expressing opinions that run counter to the military.

Mohammed ElBaradei, a prominent democracy advocate who served briefly as vice president in the post-Morsi government, sided with Youssef and lamented violation of freedom of expression. “If (freedom of expression) is limited to those we agree with, it is an empty slogan. The courage is in defending it not repressing. Salute and appreciation to Youssef,” he wrote on his Twitter account.

Youssef had had disputes with the station before. In his first episode after joining the station at the height of the Morsi rule, Youssef mocked it for being stacked with former supporters of the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak. He also made fun of its claims of having revolutionary credentials.

Youssef angered one of the station’s star broadcasters so much that the broadcaster threatened to take legal action against him. The station didn’t air the following episode, though the show returned a week later.

Youssef left Egypt for the United Arab Emirates on Friday hours before the show’s suspension. It was not clear if he was in the Persian Gulf state on business or a private trip.