Television satirist Bassem Youssef announced today that his program Al-Bernameg has come to an end, citing threats to his safety and that of the production team among the reasons for the decision.
Al-Bernameg, the Arab world’s most watched television program was halted before the elections and was scheduled to resume last Friday. It had been airing on television channel MBC Misr, after being suspended by CBC in November.
Speaking at a press conference held in the Radio Misr studio, where Al-Bernameg was recorded, Youssef said that MBC Misr informed him that the program had been banned. The satirist said that he had been aware of the possibility that this would happen.
When asked, Youssef did not state which entity issued the order to end its transmission.
“All media in the Arab world is under pressure and subject to limitations … To cut a long story short we were informed that Al-Bernameg is not continuing,” Youssef said.
“We live in the most glorious time of democracy and I cut out the tongue of anyone who says otherwise,” Youssef said sardonically.
There has been speculation that the Saudi Arabian owners of MBC, who are strongly supportive of the regime that succeeded that of Mohamed Morsi after his removal in July 2013, took the decision to end it.
Youssef said that he has received offers from foreign channels to host Al-Bernameg but that he has refused them because, “Al-Bernameg belongs in Egypt.” He added that being hosted on a foreign channel would open him and his team up to allegations of being “foreign agents” and disloyal to Egypt.
Al-Bernameg started out as a small project on Youtube but is now a sleek, expensive operation. This, Youssef says prohibits the team from returning to the Internet, where advertising revenue would come nowhere near to covering their running costs.
In an atmosphere of media self-censorship Al-Bernameg was one of the few programs willing to cross red lines. Under the Mohamed Morsi administration multiple cases were filed against Youssef and he says that he had threats against his own wellbeing as well as that of his team. These threats have continued, he says.
“I’m tired of the worry, tired of moving from channel to channel, tired of worrying about the safety of me and my family,” Youssef said. “In plain terms, we’ve had it up to here.”
Al-Bernameg has frequently been described as a symbol of the 2011 revolution, and Youssef as the voice of young people. He was asked whether he regarded the decision to stop broadcasting as a betrayal.
“Stopping Al-Bernameg is a victory for us. It sends a stronger message than if it had continued,” Youssef said.
Youssef was challenged on this by one attendee at the presser who suggested that the decision to end Al-Bernameg (rather than seeking out an alternative host channel) was defeatist and “unbefitting of you as a revolutionary.” Youssef was critical in his reply to what he termed this “one-up-man-ship.”
“If something happens to me you’ll write an article or start a hashtag but that’s it, and me and my team know our circumstances better than you. This kind of ‘one-up-man-ship’ isn’t very nice and it’s what revolutionaries do to each other; they fight and criticize a person until the person just disappears,” Youssef said.
“Maybe the disappearance of Al-Bernameg will force them to think about new, more creative means of [opposition].”
Asked what Youssef wants he replied, “I just want to do my work. And I can’t.”