London, Asharq Al-Awsat—The press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) expressed its concern for freedom of information in Egypt, citing a “campaign of repression” against the country’s media.
In a press release issued on Tuesday the watchdog stated that “this new wave of threats to freedom of information in Egypt is especially disturbing.”
The statement comes in light of the suspension of Bassem Youssef’s satirical comedy show Albernameg (The Program).
Albernameg was taken off air on November 2 just one episode into its new season. This is the first Albernameg season to take place under the rule of the new military-backed interim government. Private channel CBC stated that Youssef had violated editorial policy.
“Complaints against comedian Bassem Youssef and the suspension of his show are especially regrettable,” Reporters Without Borders said.
Youssef rose to fame after the Jan 25 revolution which ousted Mubarak, being equally lauded and censured for his sharp criticisms of the Muslim Brotherhood and former president Mohamed Mursi. However the Egyptian satirist found himself in hot water earlier this month after the new season of his show poked fun at military chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and the resounding levels of public support that he enjoys.
Bassem Youssef’s first foray following Mursi’s ouster saw him tongue-in-cheek refer to Sisi as the “man in charge of Egypt,” comparing his popularity with that of interim president Adly Mansour. The show included a section of interviews with members of the Egyptian public who could not remember Mansour’s name, as well as examples of public outpourings of support for Sisi, including poems by members of the public.
Youssef ended the show by asserting that while he opposes the Muslim Brotherhood and those who seek to use religion to secure their grip on power, he also did not support “fascism in the name of patriotism and national security.” The former doctor seemed to pledge to stand firm against the threat of censorship and media restrictions as an arm appeared from below his desk unsuccessfully seeking to silence him.
Last week’s episode has had more than 2.5 million views on YouTube, and ended with Youssef pledging to continue to fight against censorship. Youssef ended the show by saying, “I’ll see you at the next episode,” however following CBC’s decision not to broadcast last week’s episode Egyptians are left to wonder just when they will see the Egyptian satirist on their screens again.
RSF criticized the court orders against Youssef and his show, saying: “Freedom of satirically critical expression, especially in the context of a humor program, must have a place in a country that aspires to democracy.”
RSF also documented a number of cases of journalists being tried in military courts, including Hatem Abou El-Nour, Mohamed Sabry, and Ahmad Abu Deraa.
“Arbitrary arrests and hauling journalists before military courts constitute a danger to basic freedoms, as do prison terms, even if these are suspended,” the watchdog added, affirming that “these practices must stop,” the RSF statement said.