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Bassem Youssef, a former cardiac surgeon gone political satirist and comedian in post-revolution Egypt, and who himself acknowledges to have been inspired by Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, has been on TV since 2011. Since then, he has become extremely popular in Egypt and throughout the Arab world. He has more than 1,5 million followers on Twitter, and close to three million “likes” on Facebook. And an estimated 30 million from across the Arab world watch his show. He has also gained quite some prominence in the west. TIME magazine has included him in its 2013 list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Bassem Youssef باسم يوسف

Bassem Youssef باسم يوسف (Photo credit: Hossam el-Hamalawy حسام الحملاوي)

Many journalists and media representatives have referred to Youssef as Egypt’s Jon Stewart. However, the comparison is misleading. While their political satire might be very similar in style, the socio-political context they are operating in couldn’t be more different. In Egypt, political satire directed at the powerful authorities is still a novelty. Yes, of course there was satire before, but back then it mostly targeted “Americans and Jews” and not the regime, as Egypt’s influential al-Hayat newspaper reported in an article on the Bassem Youssef phenomenon in April.

Youssef has become a superstar. He is loved and revered by millions, but his political comedy also evokes extreme reactions. He has had to deal with serious ramifications. Earlier this year, he was investigated by the state, arrested, and accused of insulting Islam and Egyptian President Morsi.

On Friday, US political satirist, writer and TV-host Jon Stewart appeared on Youssef’s show “Al-Bernameg” (meaning “The Program”), which is broadcast from Cairo.

See the video of Jon Stewart’s appearance in Friday’s Al-Bernameg edition in English.

English: President Barack Obama tapes an inter...

President Barack Obama tapes an interview for the Daily Show with Jon Stewart at the Harman Center for the Arts in Washington, D.C., October 27, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As expected, the two cracked lots of jokes… but one could also take away a few important messages. Stewart, who has hosted Youssef on The Daily Show twice already and calls him “his hero”, emphasized that “satire can still be relevant” and “carve out a space in the country for people to express themselves.”

Stewart also defended Youssef in the past, when in trouble with the Egyptian authorities. On Friday he summed up what many observers around the world might have thought all along: “If your regime is not strong enough to handle a joke, then you don’t have a regime.”

Clearly, the current Egyptian regime hasn’t much sense of humor, particularly not with the continuous unrest and instability in Egypt. On the contrary, it is very quick with taking legal action against anyone who represents a view different from the party line and who could potentially undermine its legitimacy. Despite attempts to get Youssef off the air, his show continues to be broadcast on a weekly basis, and his popularity is skyrocketing.

YALLA, way to go Egypt! This is what real democratization is about.

Bassem Youssef

Bassem Youssef (Photo credit: KeizerStreetArt)

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