By Christine Sheller
The Principal Financial Group Center for Global Citizenship and the Drake University Arabic Club sponsored a presentation by Bassem Youssef, traveling from out of state, March 28, 2017. He has been dubbed “the Jon Stewart of the Arab World.”
His presentation was informative, inspiring, and entertaining. Essam Bouray, Arabic instructor at Drake University, and faculty sponsor of the Arabic Club, had known Youssef in Egypt where they had crossed paths working for justice and revolution in their country. For the presentation, Bouray led Youssef in conversation by asking him several questions. Questions were also then taken from the audience.
Youssef was the host and creator of popular TV Show AlBernameg- the first political satire show in the Middle East. Originally a 5 minute show on You Tube, Albernameg grew to become the most watched television show across the region, with 30 million viewers every week. He has been awarded several awards- he was named one of the year’s most influential people by Time Magazine in 2013, he received the International Press Freedom Award by the CPJ, and he was also recognized as a global thinker by Foreign Policy Magazine in 2013. He majored in cardiothoracic surgery, passed the United States Medical License Exam, and is a member of the Royal College of Surgeons.
Another thing Youssef and Bouray have in common is they are both exiled to the U.S. They were accused of being spies and CIA agents. Youssef was accused of being a part of a conspiracy to separate Egypt into 5 regions. He explained how that was equivelant of saying he was accused of separating the U.S. into 50 states. (The way voting works and governing works!)
Yousseff commented on the U.S. present government situation- saying that we are used to seeing our President as public servant, but it’s not the same in Egypt.
Youseff had a book for sale that is about his personal journey, including in the Arab Spring and being in the eyes of the media. He commented how people put ideology above facts and truth.
One of the questions asked was whether when he first did the Youtube show, whether it was inspired by fears, or was it a passion project. Youssef said that March 8, 2011 their president stepped down, didn’t think it would be a problem, by he had 5 million views on Youtube, which is huge. He was waiting for paperwork to study at Duke. He said he’d been playing, but it became serious.
Another question asked was about Al Jazeera. Youssef commented on how it has an interesting business model, and that they have really expanded, into having 5 Al Jazeera networks, inlcuding Al Jazeera English, Al Jazeera Egypt, Al Jazeera Arabic, and Children and Sports. They are subsidized by the government, that was the business model he was referring to.
He offered the words of wisdom that revolution is not an event, but a process.
He also spoke on Turkey, that in the last 5 years their government has been more authoritarian; preceded by a good democracy. They are currently jailing journalists. He also offered that satire by itself cannot do anything- it brings people to the table. If people don’t vote after satire, it doesn’t matter. It happened in Egypt- people didn’t go vote, but they laughed at satire.
Youssef did have a show on NBC for a small amount of time. NBC received a lot of pressure and had to end the contract, saying “no network will hire.”
Youssef was an inspiring speaker, and brought laughter to the room as well. It is good to be able to laugh in serious times. We hope that he will come back to Iowa sometime!
Christine Sheller is coordinator and editor at Iowa Peace Network. She is a graduate of Bethany Theological Seminary.