London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Controversial Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef has put forward the strongest criticism yet of the military-backed interim authorities since the return of his popular show, Albernameg, three weeks ago, directly and explicitly stating his opposition to Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi running for president.
In the third episode of the satirical current events television show broadcast since his return, Youssef aired a montage of various Egyptian media figures rejecting a Sisi presidency. He ended the segment with a clip of himself in a previous interview with well-known ONTV presenter Yosri Fouda, saying that he hopes Sisi does not run.
“Bring me the dog who spoke at the end there! You spy! Do you know how much this clown makes in a month?” Youssef jokingly asked his studio audience, referring to himself.
Local media reported on Saturday that Bassem Youssef’s third episode has already met with stinging criticism from former MP Mustafa Bakri, one of the media figures targeted by Youssef during the show.
The former MP is well known in Egypt for his pro-Sisi stance. Youssef aired clips of the Mubarak-era MP saying that he intends to ensure that Sisi stands for the presidency “whether he wants to or not,” adding that “if he refuses to stand, we will make him stand [for the presidency] by force.”
Bakri lodged a formal complaint about the show with Prosecutor-General Hisham Barakat, accusing Youssef of “defamation, ridicule and insulting his person beyond the limits of reasonable criticism,” according to the local press.
This episode was also the first time that Bassem Youssef took the opportunity to directly address the Defense Minister from behind his desk—something that he was well-known for doing with Islamist President Mohamed Mursi before his ouster last year.
“I beg you, General Sisi, not to stand [for the presidency]. Let this one go. People will remember you well for it. This would be an achievement in itself,” he said.
“Another word in your ear, General: Whenever a president comes, this guy [Mustafa Bakri] welcomes him, but then when the president leaves he turns his back on him,” Youssef added.
The comments are the strongest criticism yet of the interim authorities by Bassem Youssef, and come at a time when Cairo has been clamping down on freedom of the press in the country.
A total of twenty Al-Jazeera staff are facing trial for charges ranging from operating without a valid media license to aiding the Muslim Brotherhood, which was designated a terrorist organization in December. Egyptian–Canadian bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, Australian reporter Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed and five others remain in jail, while the other defendants in this case are being tried in absentia.
The first episode of Albernameg’s third season—newly picked up by MBC Misr following CBC TV’s decision to cancel the show last year—only obliquely made reference to powerful Egyptian army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi. In it, Youssef took aim at the state of Sisi-mania that has gripped Egyptian society and the media in recent months, but did not directly criticize or even talk about the man many presume will be Egypt’s next president.
The subsequent episode also discussed Sisi, but again did not contain any direct criticisms of the Defense Minister. Youssef instead turned his satirical gaze on the media and political figures backing a Sisi presidency. This included Youssef criticizing confirmed and presumed presidential contenders who all appeared to backtrack in the face of Sisi’s expected presidential run.