Bassem Youssef, ‘Egypt’s Jon Stewart,’ heads to campus

Video by Amina Waheed for CNS News, UC Berkeley School of Journalism

Bassem Youssef, an internationally known champion for free speech in Egypt, will visit campus Wednesday, Oct. 29, as part of UC Berkeley’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement. The media has compared Youssef to comedian Jon Stewart, whose late-night TV program, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, inspired Youssef to start his career as a satirist and columnist.

At 8 p.m.,Youssef will appear onstage at Zellerbach Auditorium, in conversation with Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, in an event titled “Bassem Youssef: Free Speech and Social Change.” The dialogue is part of the Berkeley Talks series.

Matías Tarnopolsky, Cal Performances’ executive and artistic director, calls the Egyptian satirist “a prime example of how access to information can galvanize a movement towards sustainable social change.”

“His courageous story connects the commemoration of this university legacy with current free-speech issues in the world,” said Tarnopolsky. “We are thrilled to invite him to engage with the campus community.”

After the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, Youssef, a cardiac surgeon, created a political-satire TV show to comment on the movement. The show, which over time became Al-Bernameg, or The Program, gave voice to millions of Egyptians angry at the traditional media’s coverage of the uprising and other events. It was the first live-audience show in the Middle East.

Youssef also started writing a weekly column in March 2013 for Al-Shorouk, one of Egypt’s most prominent and independent daily newspapers. That same month, a warrant was issued for Youssef’s arrest, for allegedly insulting Islam and former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi. The warrant sparked international media attention.

In June 2012, Jon Stewart invited Youssef to The Daily Show for an extended interview, saying “I think the world of what you’re doing down there.” Youssef also was Stewart’s guest in 2013, and Stewart visited Youssef in Cairo and was a guest on Al-Bernameg. The program had unprecedented viewership and became a platform for many writers, artists and politicians to speak out about the social and political scene. That same year, Time magazine named Youssef one of the “100 most influential people in the world.”

During the 2014 Egyptian presidential election campaign, the show was suspended, and in June 2014, Youssef ended the program, saying he felt the political climate was too dangerous. Al-Bernameg continues to top the regional YouTube charts, and is viewed by a million subscribers.

The public is invited to attend the Oct. 29 event, which includes a question-and-answer session with the audience; tickets can be purchased online, by calling (510) 642-9988 or by emailing tickets@calperformances.org.