Aaron Schachter: Egypt also held a controversial presidential vote recently and today election officials released the final tally. They said former army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi won almost 97% of the votes. Political tensions have been high in Egypt for a long time now, certainly since Sisi toppled the country's previous elected leader, Mohamed Morsi. Here's another sign of tension: the man who became known as the "Egyptian Jon Stewart," former surgeon Bassem Youssef, has announced he's pulling the plug on his popular TV show. I asked New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick in Cairo why Youssef is calling it quits.
David Kirkpatrick: He alluded to political pressures and even threats. When he started out during the uprising, he was an equal opportunity ridiculer. He made fun of then-President Hosni Mubarak, of the military, of the Muslim Brotherhood, of the activists in the street, the liberals in Tahir Square â€” basically everybody. But no one ever took his show off the air. After the military takeover last year, things got to be almost Orwellian in that if you so much as said "this military takeover might possibly have been a coup," you were denounced as a traitor, probably a terrorist and at the same time an agent of Israel and the United States of America. So, obviously like a good satirist, he found that funny and he began to make fun of it. But General Sisi, who is now the president-elect, said in his first TV interview "I will endure criticism, but if it's offensive to me, there's a law and I will enforce it," meaning the law against insulting the president.
Schachter: Bassem Youssef is seen in many ways as a shining example of change in Egypt, at least here in the West. Shouldn't there be some kind of valve for people to express dissent?
Kirkpatrick: That's how we do things in the United States of America but I think there's a sizable faction of Egyptians that is not comfortable with mocking the head of state. A little bit like the way Americans get queasy if you joke about the Bible or the flag.
Schachter: Do you have a handle on what his following was?
Kirkpatrick: The intelligentsia definitely was. The educated elite in Cairo was glued to their screens. Outside in the hinterland, people don't have access to private satellite networks, which is where his show was broadcast.
Schachter: Is there any one particular skit that you remembered and enjoy?
Kirkpatrick: One that sticks out the most to me was really not that funny but it was important and it was serious. He started out poking fun at some ultra conservative Islamist TV preachers who were backing Morsi and maybe backing him a little excessively. After showing some clips of these guys, saying things that seem crazy, just like Jon Stewart might do with Pat Robertson or some sanctimonious American religious figure, Bassem Youssef turned to the camera and said, 'Ok. I see how this works. You say that weâ€™re not good Muslims. But if that's the case, we've got a message for you. We don't consider you scholars or authorities. That was really striking. You don't hear that kind of vigorous public debate over what Islam should mean for society in Egypt very often and I really felt like it was an important moment and all of that is over now.
Schachter: David Kirkpatrick, Cairo Bureau Chief for the New York Times. Thanks a lot, as always.
Kirkpatrick: It's a pleasure.