It’s much easier to be Jon Stewart in America. Even if you do end up with a Republican in the White House, nothing will happen if you go on making wacky faces while reading news items in an exaggerated high voice before saying “Whaaaaat?” (Applause light goes on, audience monotonously cheers something they were thinking but that he actually said.)
But when you succeed in getting the Republican out of the White House and replacing him with not just any Democrat, but one so far left that he makes Jimmy Carter look like Richard Nixon, then life is still good and you still get to read news items while lifting one eyebrow (unless you’ve already given Colbert the eyebrow shtick so that he now has a grand total of one comic reaction) before saying, “Whaaaat. Waaaait a minute here.” (Audience claps with one hand, checks Yelp on smartphones with other hand to find the best places to eat after the George Clooney interview is done.)
But life isn’t good for Egyptian Jon Stewart, because Jimmy Carter II has done for Egypt, what the original Jimmy did for Iran. And it’s illegal to mock the new Muslim Brotherhood Fuhrer who represents the Jan 25 Islamic Revolution.
In Egypt, there’s no right to go on TV and mock the government that Jimmy Carter II helped take over the country in the name of human rights and democracy.
Youssef rose to fame following the uprising that swept Mubarak from power in February 2011 with a satirical online programme that was compared with Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. He has since had his own show on Egyptian television and mocked Mursi’s repeated use of the word “love” in his speeches by starting one of his programmes with a love song, holding a red pillow with the president’s face printed on it.
The prosecutor general ordered an investigation into a formal complaint against Youssef by an Islamist lawyer. The complaint accuses him of “insulting” Mursi, an Islamist backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, and “undermining his standing”.
So now the Egyptian Jon Stewart is in trouble. The odds of the American Jon Stewart mentioning it and connecting it to Obama’s Egyptian policy are slight. If he mentions it at all, he will read the news item, screw up his face, and then go, “Wait? So you’re saying.. wait a minute here.” (Audience monotonously applauds, not caring about the subject, and waiting for Jon Stewart to say something about Sarah Palin or Dick Cheney that they can laugh at.)
And he’s in trouble for stuff like this, which is dangerous because when Jon Stewart laughed at Bush, he was reflecting the popular view of the chattering classes. When Bassem Youssef challenges Morsi, he’s risking his freedom and his life. That’s why America doesn’t have television satire. It has media court jesters like Stewart and Colbert.
The Egyptian Jon Stewart is obviously funnier than Stewart, but so is a freshly painted wall. Youssef copies some of Stewart’s shtick, already risky in a country that doesn’t much like Jews, but what he does is meaningful because he’s standing up to a totalitarian regime. Stewart is standing up for his own ratings. Yossef is challenging actual tyranny. Stewart is catering to an audience of rich kids who want someone to make the jokes that they’re too lazy to make for them.
These are the rich kids who elected Obama and doomed Egypt’s liberals. (Audience mutters to themselves, waits for musical performance to end, posts photos of their dinner to Instagram.)