A wildly popular “Daily Show”-type satire program was yanked from the air at the last minute Friday night, with the private channel that carries the show citing comedian Bassem Youssef’s failure to follow its editorial guidelines.
Youssef had returned to the air just a week earlier after a nearly four-month hiatus. His first show since the military-backed interim government took power poked fun at public adoration of Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi, the military chief who is the country’s most powerful figure.
Shortly before Friday’s show was to air, an announcer read a statement attributed to the board of directors of the channel CBC, saying that an episode that had been recorded earlier in the week would not be shown.
On his show, “El Bernameg,” or “The Program,” Youssef had spent much of its previous season mocking Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi’s government reacted with fury, and Jon Stewart took up Youssef’s cause after authorities briefly arrested the Egyptian comic.
In July, after huge nationwide demonstrations, the army removed Morsi from power, and in the intervening months, even implied criticism of the army or Sisi has become taboo. The army chief is the center of a near-cult of personality, with slavish odes appearing in official media and chocolates bearing his image on sale in Cairo shops.
After his comeback show last week, Youssef almost immediately faced a barrage of legal complaints accusing him of defamation, among other things. He was out of the country at the time of Friday’s announcement, but his defenders and critics quickly took to social media to praise or condemn him.
One of his backers was Mohamed ElBaradei, the prominent ex-diplomat who resigned as vice president to protest a bloody crackdown on Morsi’s supporters in mid-August. ElBaradei himself had faced charges of “betraying the public trust” that were recently dropped, and has publicly criticized curbs on free expression since the coup.
A popular Twitter commenter who tweets as the Big Pharaoh said he had attended Wednesday’s taping of Youssef’s show, and that the main target of the comic’s latest gibes was not the army or the government, but Egyptian media, including his own CBC channel.