Campus News

'Egyptian Jon Stewart' talks Arab Spring, importance of satire

Bassem Youssef, an Egyptian satirist often compared to Jon Stewart, spoke at Memorial Union Wednesday night about the importance of satire.

Image By: Junaid Khalid

Comedian Bassem Youssef, dubbed by many as the “Egyptian Jon Stewart,” was greeted by a lively crowd of UW-Madison students and community members at Memorial Union Wednesday night.

Youssef, a native Egyptian, described his experiences, ranging from mocking former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to questioning the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the aftermath of the Arab Spring on his political satire show. He fled Egypt in 2014 after receiving threats from both the government and the public.

Throughout his talk, Youssef often used jokes about President Donald Trump and islamophobia to draw parallels between the current political climate in the U.S. and Egypt’s political history.

Although the Egyptian government seemed to disagree, humor like Youssef’s can be used as a tool to fight systematic inequality, according to UW-Madison professor of Middle Eastern Studies Nevine El-Nossery, who introduced Youssef Wednesday night.

“Satire is always at its most valuable when freedom of the press is constrained,” El-Nossery said. “Satire is a way of challenging power when the legitimate ways of challenging power are closed off.”

El-Nossery added that satire engages its audience, generating political activism.

“Satirical TV shows allow their audiences to stay well informed about what is happening in the world,” El-Nossery said. “They also encourage critical thinking and push their audiences to think around locally and worldwide.”

Youssef said he used satire to “poke fun at” fake news. Satire, he said, is a means of propaganda — one he said is new to the U.S., but has been used in Egypt for decades.

“When it comes to fabricating news and brainwashing the public, we’re way ahead of you,” Youssef said. “For once, Americans are looking up to us. The Middle East and Egypt gave the world algebra and astronomy, and now [the United States’] gift to the world: Fake news.”

When an audience member shouted to the crowd demanding freedom for Palestine, Youssef further emphasized his views on political activism.

“It doesn’t help the cause to just shout it when it’s not asked for,” Youssef said. “You can help your cause by listening and interacting and having some fun and you can educate people about what’s happening in the Middle East.”

Drawing comparisons to the election of President Donald Trump and past political unrest in Egypt, Youssef concluded his speech by once again noting the importance of satire in a free society.

“Satire and sarcasm are the antidote to fear,” he said.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Cardinal.