In a surprise appearance Friday night, Jon Stewart took the guest's seat on Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef's TV show, which is modeled after the US comedian's "The Daily Show" in a 20-minute slot that took on Egypt’s regime and its traffic jams.
On the Friday primetime slot, millions of viewers tuned into Egypt’s top satirical TV show watched as a man, his face obscured by a black hood, was led to the set by a pair of security toughs known across the Arab World simply as “mukhabarat” – or “intelligence”.
As the hooded man flayed about, TV show host Bassem Youssef – a popular satirist otherwise known as “Egypt’s Jon Stewart” – unmasked the man and exclaimed, with a flourish: “Ladies and gentlemen….Jon Stewart!”
In one fell swoop, post-Arab Spring television history was being made – at least for the younger, globalised set – in a country with a rich tradition of jokes and black humour.
Youssef, a 39-year-old cardiac surgeon-turned-satirist, has acknowledged the US satirist as his hero. His Arabic language TV show, “El Bernameg” (The Programme) is styled along the lines of Stewart’s “The Daily Show”.
Stewart has frequently supported his Egyptian counterpart when Youssef has been detained, questioned, released and while he continues to battle a raft of lawsuits, including allegations that he has insulted Islam, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and is “spreading atheism”, among others.
The two satirists share a deep mutual respect, and over the past few months Youssef has made occasional appearances on “The Daily Show”.
But on Friday night, it was Stewart himself appearing on El Bernameg’s Cairo set, hilariously proffering the few Arabic sentences he knew as the crowd went wild.
“Thank you, thank you, enough,” said Stewart in Arabic to an audience that could not seem to get enough of him. “Order!” he continued in heavily accented English reminiscent of an Arab dictator upbraiding his people.
‘If your regime is not strong enough to handle a joke…’
Stewart was introduced as a “foreign spy” in a dig at the increasingly conspiratorial nature of the Egyptian authorities’ discourse following mass protests against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood earlier this year.
The show, taped earlier this week, was aired on Friday as more than 100,000 supporters of Egypt’s Islamist president staged a show of force in Cairo ahead of opposition protests planned for later this month.
More than two years after the overthrow of former Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak, the world’s most populous Arab nation is deeply divided – between Islamists supporting the Brotherhood and smaller Salafist parties on one side; and secular liberal Egyptians, moderate Muslims and minority Christians on the other.
During his 20-minute appearance, Stewart made his characteristically effective, and hilarious defense of his craft and of the right to freedom of expression.
When Youssef asked Stewart if his satire ever got him into trouble, the US comic chuckled and replied, “I’ll tell you this, not the kind of trouble it gets you into,” before moving in for his killer line of the day – “If your regime is not strong enough to handle a joke, then you don’t have a regime”.
Taking on Arab hospitality and Cairo traffic
Stewart, who is on summer break from “The Daily Show”, has been traveling across the region and enjoying the famous Arab hospitality, which provided fodder for his jokes on Friday night.
THE FRANCE 24 INTERVIEW: BASSEM YOUSSEF
“I’m just wandering, as you know my people love to wander the desert,” said Stewart in a dig at his Jewish origins.
While thanking the people for their hospitality, Stewart noted, “It’s so overwhelming to the point where, as I travel through the Middle East, I’m starting to wonder if you’re being sarcastic.”
Some of the biggest laughs though came from Stewart’s frequent digs at Cairo’s infamous traffic. “I flew into Egypt three days ago and got into a taxi and I just got here,” he joked. "I know this is an ancient civilization," he noted. "Have you thought about traffic lights?"
Send in the goons
Stewart has taken time off from his iconic TV show to direct and produce a film based on a memoir by Maziar Bahari, an Iranian journalist falsely accused of being a spy and imprisoned by the Iranian government in 2009 while covering Iran's presidential election.
Wrapping up the show, Youssef commented on Stewart’s show-less state. “I wish you all the best,” said Youssef. “You have absolutely no job, you’re just roaming everywhere now, I’m very sorry for you…”
But his American hero was having none of it. In the end, Stewart left as he entered – with his mukhabarat goons in tow.
“Gentlemen come out here please. I have a job for you,” he roared as the pair of suited men with dark glasses emerged with a suitcase – and for some improbable reason, a table fan.
“These are my bags,” continued Stewart. “I’m staying. You, my friend, are going. I am Jon Stewart and I am the new host of El Bernameg!”
Date created : 2013-06-22