How a cardiac surgeon became ‘Egypt’s Jon Stewart’

Interview by Roxanne Makasdjian; Video by Phil Ebiner and Roxanne Makasdjian

Bassem Youssef, the outspoken Egyptian TV personality, spoke on campus Wednesday as part of Berkeley’s commemoration of the Free Speech Movement. In a brief videotaped conversation earlier in the day, Youssef discussed how his life changed during the 2011 Egyptian revolution, his hopes for Egypt, his thoughts on free speech and the benefits of his newly adopted plant-based diet.

During the Egyptian revolution of 2011, Youssef, a cardiac surgeon, assisted the wounded protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. He later teamed up with friends to post short satirical YouTube videos about the political situation. The posts went viral, gaining 5 million views in just three months, and evolved into the TV show Al-Bernameg, or The Program, the first live-audience show in the Middle East.

In 2012, the Egyptian government issued a warrant for the political satirist’s arrest for allegedly insulting Islam and former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi. The story received international media attention, with Time magazine naming Youssef one of the “100 most influential people in the world.”

During the 2014 Egyptian presidential election campaign, the show was suspended, and by June 2014 it was off the air, with Youssef concerned about his safety and that of his family. Al-Bernameg continues to top the regional YouTube charts, and is viewed by a million subscribers.