on March 21st 2017
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Dey Street Books
"The Jon Stewart of the Arabic World"—the creator of The Program, the most popular television show in Egypt’s history—chronicles his transformation from heart surgeon to political satirist, and offers crucial insight into the Arab Spring, the Egyptian Revolution, and the turmoil roiling the modern Middle East, all of which inspired the documentary about his life, Tickling Giants.
Bassem Youssef’s incendiary satirical news program, Al-Bernameg (The Program), chronicled the events of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, and the rise of Mubarak’s successor, Mohamed Morsi. Youssef not only captured his nation’s dissent but stamped it with his own brand of humorous political criticism, in which the Egyptian government became the prime laughing stock.
Bassem Youssef was an Egyptian cardiac surgeon trying to find a way to move out of Egypt in 2011. He was not politically active until the Arab Spring protests. A friend wanted to have a YouTube series discussing politics and he convinced Bassem to star in it mostly because he wouldn’t have to pay him. Suddenly, the series that they filmed in Bassem’s bathroom was an internet hit. Over the next few years they moved to TV and then to larger networks. The show was a hit. However, making fun of politicians in Egypt isn’t the safest life choice.
In a few years he rose from obscurity to being the most famous entertainer in Egypt to being forced to flee the country.
I loved this audiobook. I had never heard of Bassem Youssef before although he had been on The Daily Show and other U.S. TV shows. He says that he isn’t able to explain Egyptian or Islamic politics well but then explains them in an easy to understand manner. Now I understand who most of the players are and a little bit about what their goals are. His goal was to make fun of them all.
This is a scary book to read because you see so many parallels between Egypt and the path that the United States is on now. In fact, he came to the U.S. just in time to document the rise of Trump. Like Trevor Noah, he points out that Trump follows the same line of thinking as the African dictators. He talks about how people can convince themselves that everything is fine when everything is falling apart around them.
He shows how media can be manipulated to show whatever ‘truth’ the government wants you to believe.
Speaking satirical truth to power cost him his relationship with his family and his ability to go back to his country. His wife stayed with him but he isn’t really sure why. After all, she married a surgeon who a few months later decided that he was going to be a comedian in the country where it is illegal to make fun of the president and it went downhill from there.
There is a new documentary on the festival circuit called Tickling Giants about his life. I want to see it to be able to see many of the sketches that he describes in the audio book.
He is a huge fan of Jon Stewart. They ended up meeting and collaborating. (Or as it was charged in Egypt, he was recruited by Jon Stewart to work for the CIA.) Here’s Jon Stewart’s take on things the first time Bassem got in trouble.
If you want to understand more about the Arab Spring and the aftermath, this is a great book. If you want to know what resistance can look like, listen to this book. He narrates it himself and does a great job telling his story.