E386 -

Bassem Youseff, the Jon Stewart of Egypt, joins the show to discuss the state of political satire.

Hosts
Aaron Ross Powell
Director and Editor
Trevor Burrus
Research Fellow, Constitutional Studies
Guests

Bassem Youseff is an Egyptian comedian, writer, producer, surgeon, doctor, media critic, and television host, who hosted El‐​Bernameg, a satirical news program, from 2011 to 2014

Shownotes:

Bassem Youseff joins the show to talk about his experience hosting the show, El‐​Bernameg (The Show), a satirical news program in Egypt, from 2011 to 2014. Youseff is often described as the Egyptian Jon Stewart because his program garnered over 40 million viewers. In 2013, Time named Youseff one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Why are dictators humorless? Do you think that America has a healthy political satire climate? What caused the Arab Spring?

Transcript

[music]

0:00:07.2 Trevor Burrus: Welcome to Free Thoughts. I’m Trevor Burrus.

0:00:09.3 Aaron Powell: And I’m Aaron Powell.

0:00:10.9 Trevor Burrus: Joining us today is Bassem Youssef, an Egyptian comedian, writer, producer, surgeon, media critic, and television host, who hosted The Show, Egypt’s first satirical news program, from 2011 to 2014. At its peak, his show, The Show, received 30 million viewers, half of Egypt watched his show. Bassem is often referred to as the John Stewart of Egypt. He is also the author of Revolution for Dummies: Laughing Through the Arab Spring. Welcome to Free Thoughts.

0:00:38.0 Bassem Youseff: Thank you so much for having me.

0:00:39.8 Trevor Burrus: Is it fun to make fun of dictators?

0:00:42.1 Bassem Youseff: Oh, it’s the absolute fun. It’s the absolute fun because it’s challenging, because when you make fun of someone who use fear in order to alienate people, scare people, have power over people, when you laugh at them, you’re not afraid of them anymore. And that’s why the dictators hate us.

0:01:00.7 Aaron Powell: Why do dictators seem to have so little of a sense of humor? It seems like a lot of people are… A lot of world leaders have a sense of humor, are good at making fun of themselves, engage in the back and forth. But dictators and autocrats seem just to not at all.

0:01:18.2 Bassem Youseff: Well, that brings us to the other pillar of their rulership. The first one is fear, and the second one is fake respect. They believe that making fun of someone is disrespectful. They need to have this kind of respect because that’s their ego speaking. They are like, these are like all of these dictators have some sorta insecurity, and they overcompensate it with too much respect and too much fear. So when you use humor against them, they lose their minds, they don’t know how to deal with you, and because it’s not just you about making a joke about them, it’s about like there are other subordinates seeing you being a joke, and that takes away also of your halo in front of them.

0:02:00.1 Aaron Powell: Is that, though, how it’s read by those subordinates? So from the outside watching these people respond so negatively to humor, makes them, in my mind, look weak.

0:02:10.5 Bassem Youseff: Oh, absolutely. But…

0:02:11.9 Aaron Powell: Right like if you get that quickly offended…

0:02:14.2 Bassem Youseff: I know, but they don’t see that, they look at… That’s why they… In their mind, they consider it as an insult, and it’s an insult that need to be answered. And it’s the same thing even with… Whether those subordinates, by the way, are subordinates of a dictator or subordinates of a god, or a subordinate of a religion, or subordinate of a line of thought. So it’s the same thing.

0:02:39.6 Trevor Burrus: How novel was your show? First of all, for our listeners who… The show covers a lot of different topics, so at the time when you started this, a lot of things had been happening in Egypt. But when you started this, was there anything like this going on in Egypt?

0:02:55.2 Bassem Youseff: No, not at all. At that time, it was 2011, but the Egyptian television was stuck in the ‘80s. There was absolutely no innovation. They just have very long talk shows that just goes out for hours. And the idea about being dedicated to a show, we have a dedicated writer to a show, to have a real audience, that was not even a thought. And a lot of people look at the impact, the political impact of the show, but I like to look more at the economical and the entertainment impact that the show did, because after our show, the kind of people now, it changed the landscape of the media forever. And now people are more courageous to have big‐​budget shows that comes once a week, not that just goes on for hours, and it comes every day.

0:03:48.5 Trevor Burrus: Now, how do you go from being a surgeon… You were a heart surgeon, correct?

0:03:52.9 Bassem Youseff: Yes, sir, I was a heart surgeon.

0:03:54.7 Trevor Burrus: To a comedian. That seems like…

0:03:56.9 Bassem Youseff: Totally unplanned.

0:03:57.9 Trevor Burrus: A career‐​derailing of some sort.

0:04:01.9 Bassem Youseff: Yeah, well, at that time, 2011, I was just waiting for my fellowship papers to be finalized, I was accepted in a fellowship in Cleveland, and I was about to… I’m just waiting for the final papers for the H-1 visa, to get that fellowship. And the revolution happened, and then I just… I did something, I did some YouTube videos satirizing the state‐​run media. And I didn’t think it was going anywhere, and then suddenly I’m being interviewed by every single network, to have me on their show. Then suddenly, I am signing the contract, TV contract, while the papers from Cleveland arrived, and I had… Now I have to make a choice. So I said, “Alright, medicine will always be there, so let’s just try this for a year and see what happens,” and I just continued for 10 years.

0:04:54.8 Trevor Burrus: So in that climate, we had Mubarak and then Morsi, at the beginning of that, were you willing to give Morsi a chance or did you just start laying into him immediately?

0:05:05.0 Bassem Youseff: No, it’s not about giving anybody a chance. Anybody who goes in power, you make fun of them, it’s not about you’re making fun of him if he’s good or bad, this is the price that you pay for authority. And it is, as a matter, I would consider that a president having a show, making fun of him, that’s a compliment for the president. But they don’t see it like that. Some of the people who like conspiracy theories, they said I was making fun of those people because I was paid by them to make them look good. And it was fake, you see that’s… We have conspiracy theories everywhere. And I didn’t make anything up. I was just using whatever is there in the media and commenting on them. And a lot of those… These materials were funny. So that made our job easier. So that’s what we did.

0:05:52.5 Aaron Powell: At the time that you got started with the show, was this state‐​run media? Were there independent stations?

0:05:58.5 Bassem Youseff: Well, there has always been independent stations, but it was about the control of the authority on them. So right after the Arab Spring, there was an interim period of two, three years of relative freedom. So that was like where a lot of, as you say, independent stations started popping up more.

0:06:22.3 Aaron Powell: What was the process like of launching the show, because if this was the first political satire show, and it’s in a country, even if they’re independent stations, it’s in a country that is not fully democratic, doesn’t have full protections for free speech and so on. So how do you get a show like that on the air? Were there worries? Because you can’t do it yourself, you need producers.

0:06:45.6 Bassem Youseff: There’s a lot of worries, the biggest worries were the logistics worries, like say, having this show not being done before, we had to create a core of people that we… It’s like you are having the know‐​how of creating a Ferrari car, but you don’t really have the infrastructure for the Ferrari car to run on it. So I even hired many of the “veteran producers” in the beginning, and I fired all of them after two months because they didn’t know what to do, because that’s not the kind of work that we do. So we went in and they hired people that were all fresh graduates, and it didn’t matter if they had anything to do with me or not. It’s about like, “If you’re gonna be passionate, we’re gonna do it.” So that’s actually what we did.

0:07:41.2 Trevor Burrus: This goes back to… Related to an earlier question by Aaron, but not only are dictators humourless, but they tend to be really silly in a very interesting way. We had a lot of things dictatorial about Trump, which we can get into, but there was just a lot of silliness about it. It seems to me maybe the root of that is that they take themselves way too seriously, but there’s just so much silliness. At one point, I don’t know if it was under more Morsi or al‐​Sisi, but the government claims to have cured AIDS, correct? And was that a serious claim? Were these silly things that come out? It’s like they don’t even have anyone who’s looking in the mirror saying, “Guys, this is just too much, there’s no self‐​awareness.”

0:08:24.1 Bassem Youseff: So this was not about silliness. This was about propaganda. So the cure for AIDS thing was done by an official statement from the higher ranks of the army. So you see, remember when I would talk at the beginning about fear and respect, fake respect? The other very important component is propaganda, because you can’t just make people afraid forever, or respect you forever. So you need to give them something as a fake hope to give them a false impression that, “This dictatorship is working.” So they announced that they had cured AIDS, and of course, I took them to town. They believe that people need to believe in that system, and that’s why we need to have all of these propaganda fake news that we are better than others. We are superior than those democratic countries that preach to us day and night about human rights. You see, we have got a cure for AIDS, but those Western democratic countries and all are failures. And by the way, it’s interesting that you chose the cure of AIDS, because that seems to be a staple in dictators. So the President of Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, who was a dictator also for 15, 20 years in Gambia, and he also claimed in 1998 that he found a cure for AIDS.

0:09:46.8 Bassem Youseff: And North Korea, they also, many times, more often than not, claimed that they found a cure for AIDS. Even Sudan at one point did that. So it’s all of these tricks or propaganda that they always… So if you have a dictator like Hitler, he was a dictator, but the system was brutal and very effective, right?

0:10:12.4 Bassem Youseff: They built the most lethal war machines, and they did a lot of incredible advancements in science, so at least they have something to brag about, “We’re dictators and it’s working.” But in the third‐​world country, it’s funny, because nothing is working, so they have to make something up.

0:10:29.7 Aaron Ross Powell: You mentioned that they need the people to believe in this. And that’s always struck me as one of the really interesting things looking at dictatorships or authoritarian types, and we saw it under Trump in this country is, from my perspective, Trump was obviously a fraud. He was obviously a man who didn’t know much of anything, had little or no interest in learning much about anything, was obviously lying all the time, and was just thoroughly incompetent. But he had this whole contingent of Americans who were convinced that he was literally the smartest man who’s ever lived, knew everything, and that any screw‐​ups that happened weren’t his fault, but were the fault of nefarious forces operating against him. And that seems to be a common thing. How does that happen? How do so many people in countries look at these buffoons in power and imagine that they are close to godhood, effectively?

0:11:35.8 Bassem Youseff: Well, isn’t that the exact definition of a cult? It is like that’s what cult does. They claim ridiculous claims and you have people believing them. It doesn’t matter if this is a cult formed of 10 people in the woods, or 75 million people who believe that. [chuckle] It’s still a cult.

0:11:57.6 Trevor Burrus: When did the regime first take notice of you? Was there some joke that you thought, “Oh, that’s getting too close.”

0:12:05.1 Bassem Youseff: The show, when it launched, even on YouTube, it garnered millions and millions of followers, and millions of views. So overnight, I just turned from this obscure doctor into someone who has the biggest show in Egypt. It was like nobody have seen a development like this. And it was scary, ’cause suddenly you have 40 million people watching your episode, every episode. So over 40 million people, that’s 40% of the Egyptian population. Plus whatever is happening in the Arab world, so we were noticed in the beginning. But so the problem is not being noticed or not, the problem is the kind of pressure that you have when you have that kind of viewership, because people could look at the number, 40 million people, and say like, “Oh, that’s amazing.” And I said, “That’s scary, because that means you have 40 million people having an opinion about you.” And so, yeah, it got out of hand a little bit.

0:13:04.4 Trevor Burrus: Was there a system of increasing pressure applied via different state mechanisms, whether it’s licensing or getting visits by policemen at 3:00 in the morning or something like that.

0:13:16.3 Bassem Youseff: Oh, we had that all the time. Under the Islamist, there was a warrant for my arrest. I was arrested. I turned myself in, and I was interrogated for six hours, and I went out on bail. There was a lot of incitement, violent incitement against me in the religious channels. Under the military, there was… My show was cancelled twice. And a couple of times they have scrambled the satellites in order to block the transmission. And they had legal case against me, and eventually I had to escape. So that’s, in a nutshell, what happened to me under the two regimes.

0:13:52.2 Trevor Burrus: So do you think that your show… We talked about how it was sort of unseen in Egyptian society, but did it… I mean aside from its effect it had on increase of production values and how people consider shows and things like this, do you think that the mindset of Egyptians changed to some extent, in a way that maybe even is still true today, that something is now… Something is okay, making satire about political figures, that was not okay before?

0:14:25.2 Bassem Youseff: I think there’s a lot that changed in the Egyptian mindset, not just because of El‐​Bernameg. El‐​Bernameg was just a very small part of it. I think the whole idea of the revolution itself, although it practically, you might say it failed… That we have a counter‐​revolution, and then dictatorship became worse now. But that whole experience, that whole trauma, if you want to call it, made people reconsider every single thing that they thought that they can take for granted, the line of thoughts, their convictions, things that is related to political, religious, societal norms has been disrupted forever. And you have… Even your generations, I think didn’t even see the revolution, have actually now… Are in a different… In a totally different place than we were before the revolution. So I will say that the revolution is not really an event, it’s a process. And maybe politically, it did not work, but I think on a societal level and on a social level, on a community level, on a mind‐​thought level, a lot have changed.

0:15:34.6 Trevor Burrus: Have others, younger comedians picked up the mantle? Is there a political satire scene in Egypt right now?

0:15:42.2 Bassem Youseff: No, and not because of the lack of talent, but lack of a freedom margin. I believe that after the show, there has been amazing talent that emerged, but they were always limited on what they can do. So I believe that they channeled their talents towards political satire, they would have excelled, but it is what is available for them.

0:16:06.0 Trevor Burrus: In America, we had this Trump experience, and you’ve discussed in different ways, as a learning, maybe a dictator with training wheels, or like a learning dictator gives us a glimpse into how this works. But then other people say, “Look, Trump was president for four years. We’re not in a dictatorship.” There was a huge amount of change that happened to American laws, at least ones that were passed. I don’t think people feel like they’re living in a dictatorship. So is it overblown to say that Trump had dictatorial attitudes?

0:16:38.2 Bassem Youseff: Yeah, he definitely had dictatorial attitudes, but it was not manifested in real life. So that’s the difference between someone who would be… Maybe some of the presidents of the United States, including Trump, for example, if they were put in a a third‐​world dictatorial country, they will be dictators. But the system doesn’t allow them. So Trump has absolutely shown some traits like… We can talk day and night about what he said, whatever, but I think there’s one action that he did that is enough for me, is when he broke a long‐​time tradition of attending and participating in the White House correspondent dinner. That was a beacon for American democracy, and a sign that a president is human, and he can be… Even if this was only for show, even if this was not real, but to have this tradition, and the fact that he say, “I’m not gonna go.” And the undertone is like, “I’m not gonna allow anybody to make fun of me.” So that for me is enough. That is a trait right there.

0:17:55.5 Aaron Powell: Along those lines, though, do you think that America has a healthy political satire climate? Because I’m thinking about… When Trump was in office, our political satirists were pretty savage in attacking him, and not just attacking his buffoonery and mannerisms and that sorta stuff, but also the vileness of a lot of his policies, of just being really critical in this speaking truth to power sense. But it often feels like that’s mitigated by tribal and partisan identification. So I’m thinking about like when Obama left office, we had Saturday Night Live, which engages in quite a lot of political satire. Do a Obama going away party episode effectively, where they just sang this very maudlin version of Hallelujah, I believe it was, to this outgoing president. And it does seem like a lot of American political satirists tend to overlook abuses of power when they’re coming from people on their own team. Do you notice that? Do you worry that the satirists who honed their craft under Trump are going to… We’re not gonna get as much of the prodding at those in power that we really need now that he’s no longer in office?

0:19:24.0 Bassem Youseff: But I don’t think a comedian should be neutral. A comedian is a human, and he’s biased, and he has his own political views. Because I’m sure that there’s… There’s a wanna‐​be satirical show on Fox News, who have absolutely ripped Democrats. And the reason that you don’t talk about them, that they’re not funny, right? I’m sorry, but I don’t see a lot of conservative Republican, right‐​wing comedians that actually worthy of my time. And that’s why you don’t talk about them, because the funniest people are the liberal ones. So, why not?

[laughter]

0:20:02.4 Aaron Ross Powell: Do you have a theory on why that might be the case? Because it seems to absolutely be the case.

0:20:06.4 Bassem Youseff: Yeah, because the whole thing about comedy is that you break barriers. And conservatives have so many barriers in their minds. And their comedy is lame because they cannot break the circuit. They will always find that the comedy on the right‐​wing is very vile, and very cheap, and very low‐​blow, and very on the nose. And I think it comes from the fact that they’re conservative minds. And I think, honestly, that the way that conservative… I’m talking about the new conservatives, by the way, not as the physical conservative idea that the Republican Party should have been based on, but now it’s something else. But I really think that the conservative minds will look at the world in a very, very screwed way, and that’s why their humor are terrible.

0:20:55.4 Bassem Youseff: And also, I’m sure that Obama had his own mistakes, but at least he was presidential. I think the whole idea is about being presidential. You cannot really compare… When Clinton did what he did, he was ripped apart with the sexual scandal. Although for me, a personal sexual scandal cannot really compare to the kind of damage that one Republican President had done to the country and to the world, whether that was George W. Bush, or that was Trump. So I’m sorry, I don’t wanna sound very far left or something, but if you’ve seen every single Republican president in the last 30 years, every time that he leaves office, there’s a crisis.

0:21:39.6 Bassem Youseff: There’s an incredible crisis, unemployment, some sort of a crash on the stock market, or crash of the market. And there’s wars everywhere, and there’s huge deficit. Bill Clinton is the only president [0:21:57.7] ____ who left actually with a surplus. And then Obama also dealt with the deficit, and wiped out $1 trillion of deficit. And then you find the Republican President, who’s supposed to be fiscally conservative, they come in and they ruin the economy, every time they do it. And that’s by numbers. Even Reagan, the unemployment in his eight years, I don’t know why is this guy a legend. He ruined the economy terribly, and he increased the deficit. So I don’t know, I really don’t know how these people think, I’m sorry.

0:22:31.0 Trevor Burrus: Yeah, it goes back and forth on Republicans, and definitely they like to talk about fiscal restraint, and then spend a lot of money. But on the question of comedy, you’re always described as the John Stewart of Egypt, which is good marketing definitely for you. But the question, many people on the right said, “We need a John Stewart, we need a John Stewart.” The right can make fun of people too.

0:22:58.2 Bassem Youseff: So why can’t they have one?

0:23:02.1 Trevor Burrus: Well, I think that you’ve pointed out some things. I think that it’s difficult. I think that John Stewart did do a better job of actually being somewhat bipartisan, going to both sides and making fun of people when they needed to be made fun of. If you create a comedy show, the self‐​conscious idea that this will be a conservative John Stewart, you’ve already created… You’re putting something before comedy. You oughta put comedy first, it seems like to me. Was that what you thought on your show? You can’t put conservative before comedy, you have to put comedy, and then it becomes that.

0:23:34.4 Bassem Youseff: And comedy comes much more from the right‐​wing, so we make fun of them. The blatant lies that Fox News does, you can speak about CNN as much as you want, but the blatant, horrible lies that comes from only two shows, Hannity and Carlson, you will never find something… Or before them, Lou Dobbs, before he leaves, the hypocrisy, the flip‐​flopping of their situations. It’s just, you can’t, you can’t really compare that with anything. You can speak whatever you want about CNN and MSNBC, but basically it’s the difference between bad and pure evil.

0:24:16.8 Trevor Burrus: Let’s take a step back actually since you’re someone who knows from the ground level. If it’s come up a couple of times. We’re approaching the 10‐​year anniversary of the Arab Spring, which of course was a bunch of different things in different countries. There’s probably not one answer to this question, given the variety of countries, but from your read, being from the region, what happened that collectively made that happen, and why did it seem to not work?

0:24:49.2 Bassem Youseff: Well, let’s talk, for example, about Egypt, because each country was different. You had Syria, that you had a dictator who effectively aborted the whole thing and killed everybody. And then you had Libya, that went into… So many international powers went in, and it’s fractured. But I think in Egypt, there was two big problems, which is, how religion and militarization has effectively infiltrated the society for so many years. For so many years, you only had these two conservative powers that were in control, religion and the military.

0:25:28.6 Bassem Youseff: And the liberal voices were being effectively oppressed and aborted for so many years. And at a certain point, the beginning of the revolution, there was some sort of an alliance between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, and then they turned against them. It’s just like we were not organized, and those people had an experience of how to run things and how to turn things again for their own… Again, it’s not like it failed as much as it was aborted.

0:26:00.9 Trevor Burrus: We talked about the mindsets of Egyptians. Now, I don’t have a good sense of where the polling, so to speak, a mindsets for say, Egypt is, but do you think… There is definitely a fair amount of support for the Muslim Brotherhood, correct there? And then there are some people on the other side…

0:26:20.5 Bassem Youseff: Not as it used to. Not as it used to. There is more of a sympathy for what happened to them, but I think the Muslim Brotherhood has effectively alienated a huge part of the population. And most of the people are more now resentful of Sisi after he was treated as a god, but you cannot just say that there is a lot of sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood. I think they have also alienated a lot of people, and they just now look at the victim, but I don’t think that they have any popularity left.

0:26:55.2 Aaron Ross Powell: Can you talk a bit more about the relationship between religion and these authoritarian tendencies we see in governments like in Egypt? Because there’s a narrative that’s common among, especially conservatives in America, that the reason that we see so many dictatorships in the Middle East, we see so few freedoms, is because of Islam, is because Islam naturally is drawn to that sort of thing, or props that sort of thing up. But there are a lot, obviously, a lot of Muslims in the US and throughout the world who push back very strongly on that, and say that Islam’s being co‐​opted by these authoritarian regimes. So what is the relationship between the hardcore religious base and the authoritarianism?

0:27:48.3 Bassem Youseff: You can remove the word of Islam and you put Christianity, and then you can go back 400 years and you see the same exact tendency with authoritarianism, when the Catholic church was ruling the world. And you can take the same exact word and you remove it and you put Hinduism, and then you can go to India and see what kind of authoritarian tendencies that Modi is doing, oppressing the Muslim minorities. You can remove that and you can put in Buddhism, and you can go to Myanmar and see how those people also used Buddhist scripture and Buddhist tendency in order to make one of the most peaceful religions in the world extremely violent, and they killed the Muslims in Myanmar, so it not really about… It is how religion is like everything else, it could be used for good, it could be used for bad. And when it is put in the hand of authoritarianism, it will be used for bad.

0:28:40.2 Bassem Youseff: Not defending Islam, I’m just saying that Islam is like any other religion. You can find ISIS, and at the same time you can find also Inquisition. Or you can see like how every single religion, because I think it’s more not the nature of Islam, it’s the nature of religion in itself, because the nature of religion is absolute obedience. And somehow, when there’s a dictator coming in, he channels that obedience, absolute obedience, for his followers. So it is just facts.

0:29:22.9 Bassem Youseff: And also, the whole thing about extremism and Jihad and the extreme groups and the terrorist groups are also used by dictators who are not really Muslim at all, who are just dictators. Who use that as a crutch or as an excuse to tell the west that if we don’t have some sort of an iron fist on the society, the ISIS and the cadre will take over. And the ISIS and the cadre use the fact that there is a lot of injustice and a lot of tyranny to tell them that the solution is in embracing religion and following us. It’s all a political game.

0:30:03.1 Trevor Burrus: The other aspect of this which Americans are not very good at thinking through, is our role in many of these situations. So it’s obviously a huge question to say, “What has America done wrong in the Middle East?” But maybe just in Egypt, a lot of Americans probably think that we have little to no involvement in Egyptian politics, except for maybe selling weapons or something. But America tends to try and choose its own friends in those situations, correct?

0:30:34.9 Bassem Youseff: Well, America is a superpower, and at the end of the day, they want their interests to be fulfilled in those regions. How do you do that? You want, again, make sure that your interests are protected in each country you have a deal with. It is much easier for them to deal with a dictator who would break the rules in order to give them what they want, instead of them having to go through the legal channels, ’cause that will cost them more money. So they need a control about a certain region. The whole idea of selling weapon is not something to be taken lightly, it is the crux of that kind of control.

0:31:13.4 Bassem Youseff: So it is better for them to have a dictator, who he knows that he’s vulnerable to them, than having a truly elected government that will work for the best interests of their people over the best interests of that superpower. That’s why America and other superpowers do not have any problem at all preaching human rights all day and night, and then at the same time supporting dictators in the Middle East and other parts of the world because basically they protect their interests. It’s very easy.

0:31:50.8 Trevor Burrus: America obviously has been involved, continues to be involved, in all sorts of ways in the Middle East, most of it pretty destructive. What could or should America do to help that part of the world?

0:32:05.3 Bassem Youseff: I don’t know, because I don’t think helping that part of the world will actually help America, and that according to the politicians, because politics is never about playing fair. Politicians in America, and leaders in America will continue to play totally unfairly in order to get the biggest chunk of benefits for them. And if they help that part of the world, and suddenly you have democratically‐​elected government, those governments will say, “We don’t need an American military base in our land. We do not need to give you that extra benefit or preferential treatment.”

0:32:45.9 Bassem Youseff: So what we’re really discussing here is like fairy tale. That’s not real life. Real life is really unfair. And it’s terrible. But if you want to know how they can help that part of the world, maybe they can start by not giving weapons and not supporting dictators. But then they will tell you if you don’t do that, the whole country will fall into chaos. And they might be right, because those dictators have designed these countries to fall into chaos when these are removed. So I know it’s a catch‐​22, and we’re chasing our tails here, but there’s no silver bullet.

0:33:26.0 Trevor Burrus: Well, it’s an interesting thing about what… Well, I think part of your story and what you try to do, to some extent, you wanted to tell a good joke, but with a purpose, but the idea… You mentioned democracy, and going about to Aaron’s question, whether or not a country like Egypt has enough people, pro‐​liberal democracy to create a movement for establishing a liberal democracy. But maybe one of the first things you need before that is you need political satire. You need people to be able to laugh and stuff like that. Or maybe there is a movement there, and they’re just being squelched by the powerful.

0:34:02.6 Bassem Youseff: Yeah, there was a movement, and the moment was enough to remove a whole regime. But now this movement is crushed. And I think it is… I don’t know… It’s not just like, what about the movement, but what about the powers that work against democracy? The powers that work against democracy right now are very powerful. They are supported by the west, they are supported by many of the countries that put a lot of money behind them. So whether or not it will happen, it really depends on these factors changing a long time, like if that system becomes weaker or these powers become stronger.

0:34:41.6 Trevor Burrus: So back to your story, what happened to your show?

0:34:45.9 Bassem Youseff: What happened to my show? I was canceled a couple of times, and then the last time after I was canceled, they started to have some sort of legal cases against me, all of made up, in order to try to frame me in any ways. And then they had a bogus verdict against me to make me pay a hundred million pounds as compensation to the network that canceled me, which doesn’t make any sense. So the lawyer said, “You need to get on the plane and leave,” which I did. The verdict was at 12:00 noon and I left at 5:00. My show was already off the air for four months, but they went… As they were getting stronger and having more… Garnering more support from the international community, they were going behind everyone who stood against them at a certain point.

0:35:39.5 Trevor Burrus: Have you ever considered relaunching the show on, say, YouTube in some way that would be available?

0:35:45.9 Bassem Youseff: No, because I believe that the show is only valuable when it’s broadcasted from Egypt. When you do again from abroad, it loses much of its power. You would be looked at someone who was throwing rocks from afar, and you are not carrying the responsibility of what you’re gonna say. And yeah, so I don’t think I’m gonna do it from abroad.

0:36:07.2 Trevor Burrus: So now, how are you continuing to pursue the humor, satire thing to try and affect some parts of Egyptian society?

0:36:19.7 Bassem Youseff: Well, no. I believe that comedy is a reflection of your truth. My truth now, I am an immigrant. I’m a resident in this country, in America. Me as an immigrant, as an US citizen, and a resident of this country, I have my own problems as someone who live here in America. So I do stand‐​up comedy, which is… I’m on a tour right now. So I still do politics and comedy, but it is related to the status that I am in right now. So it’s a tool where I tell my story, and the same time criticize my present status as a resident of this country while being still able to make observations and comparisons between the two places I belong to, between Egypt and America.

0:37:08.9 Trevor Burrus: Along those lines then, so taking the experience you had and applying it to the situation now and looking forward, because America went through this sometimes scary, almost always bizarre four years, and we appear to be emerging from that into something new, where do you see, I guess, fruitful ground for your brand of political satire? Are there things that you think we should be paying attention to, keeping an eye on, or just making fun of looking forward?

0:37:45.7 Bassem Youseff: Well, I believe there’s a lot of weight that is put on satirical shows and satires and comedians. I think this whole thing about looking at satire or comedy as your saviour is a very counterproductive thought. I think it makes us complacent and gives a fake effect, a fake feeling that we have done our duty towards democracy and freedom by sitting there laughing passively while watching someone else making fun of the people that we don’t like. There is a limit to satire, and there’s limits to comedy. And the limitation of a satirist or a comedian stands on the edge of his feet or the edge of the TV set. After that, these people, after all of this satire, all of this dose of comedy, they don’t get up and go vote and change their environment, you can have a million satirical show, it doesn’t matter.

0:38:50.4 Trevor Burrus: Thank you for listening. If you enjoy Free Thoughts, make sure to rate and review us in Apple Podcasts or in your favorite podcast app. Free Thoughts is produced by Landry Ayres. If you’d like to learn more about libertarianism, visit us on the web at www​.lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org.