The Policy And The Program : The Bassem AffairPosted: April 3, 2013
Bassem Youssef hosts a popular satirical program (El Bernameg or “The Program”) on Egyptian television. When the Egyptian Prosecutor hauled him into court to answer charges of insulting the President and Islam he started a media circus that quickly pulled in the American satirical program “Daily Show”, the Muslim Brotherhood, its political party, the Egyptian President, the American Embassy and the US State Department. A seemingly minor affair is likely to have a major impact on a critical policy.
The US policy toward Egypt since January 25 2011 has been a makeshift affair, improvised and circumscribed by a desire for “responsible” statesmanship. It left the US seeming to be in a position of support for the Islamists parties in Egypt, especially the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). It is doubtful that this is the intention of the policy. As often the case in the complex world of power politics, a minor affair can shed light on complex issues, even at the risk of oversimplification. There are many reasons why the “Bassem Affair” will alter US policy toward Egypt.
1- The MB overreacted. The bizarre, slightly deranged, response of the MB toward the US asserting its belief in freedom of speech comes on the heels of an equally bizarre statement against the rights of Women, seeming, among other things, to condone wife-beating as necessary to the health of society. A movement at the threshold of political power is now speaking its mind, and it is not pretty. The MB statements are truthful in affirming its core mission as social, its deeply-held beliefs as anti-modern, and its methods as coercive. The truth may set a man free, but freedom has made the MB truthful.
2- Americans laughed. In a few minutes of sharp and merciless comedy, Jon Stewart, the host of the “Daily Show”, lampooned Morsi as an oppressive buffoon. Millions of Americans get their political news from this show and are not likely to forget this episode when it comes to Egypt. Whatever the Brotherhood invested in its charm offensive in the US is now lost, and nothing short of a miraculous transformation of the tedious and rotund Morsi into a tolerant and svelte Mandela will alter this view.
3- The MB-friendly pundits chocked. The US academic community has grown a variety of Middle East “experts” reared on the leftish rhetoric of anti-colonialism. These have formed a phalanx of apologists for “moderate” political Islam, often tilting the balance of US policy, especially among Democrats. Anyone disagreeing with them (especially Egyptian or Egyptian-American liberals) is shunned as “right wing” or “intolerant”, or even “felool” (A thoroughly unEgyptian word). With this affair they are left speechless, many re-evaluating their youthful dalliances and indiscretions, much as leftist did in the 1930’s after the horrors of Stalin became obvious.
In short, we have two comedians to thank for what is likely to be a beneficial effect. As always, a few minutes of humor can cut through decades of obfuscation. To laugh is human, and is often the best defense against intolerance and pomposity.