December 5, 2017 – This bittersweet documentary about a comedian deemed enemy of the state is both haunting and instructive about rebellions, authoritarian governments and satirical humor.
An Egyptian heart surgeon, Bassem Youssef, is a fan of influential American comedian Jon Stewart (host of “The Daily Show” for 16 years). He begins a similar kind of show as a video podcast on YouTube in 2011 inspired by the Egyptian revolution and revulsed by the non-coverage of the state-run media. His podcast is an immediate hit and he is invited to host his own TV show.
Bassem quits his job as a surgeon and begins hosting his own Stewart-inspired political humor TV show, Al Bernameg (literally a show called “The Show”). Al Bernameg becomes wildly popular. Bassem is even invited to appear on the Daily Show with his hero, Jon Stewart.
But the heights of the “Arab Spring” and the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, soon gave way to yet another military dictatorship in Egypt, a dictatorship that would not tolerate Bassem's jokes about its leadership, or its rule. Egypt was in chaos after Mubarak and after the failed rule of Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. Egyptians, clamoring for order, gladly accepted the rule of former General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who had removed Morsi in a military coup.
The Egyptian public didn't seem to realize it, but Egypt seemed to have simply traded one military dictator for another. When Bassem made fun of this situation on his show, he was forced off the air. Eventually, he was forced to leave the country.
Despite what has happened to him and to Egypt, Bassem insists in this movie that Egypt is better off now than it was before all this happened. Bassem feels there is progress in terms of personal freedoms in Egypt. The documentary shows some evidence of this, particularly among the women who worked on the show. They seem to be able to express themselves, and dress the way they like, and live more independently than those in other Muslim countries.
Bassem's rise and fall is quite impressive, and there is no shortage of danger to him and his family, and not just from the government. Angry mobs of people also wanted his head, for various reasons. Freedom of speech is not widely embraced in Egypt, it appears.
This documentary shows Bassem to be a very smart, very funny man who is very dedicated to being “the people's voice,” as he puts it in the film. He was once voted one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine. He became a Resident Fellow at the Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and he hosted the 43rd International Emmy Awards in 2015. The big question remains: Will he ever be allowed to return to Egypt and will he ever be allowed to host a comedy show again? I hope he does both. This film rates a B+.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.