Popular Egypt satirist takes a fellowship post at Harvard

AP News
Posted: Feb 03, 2015 10:35 AM
Popular Egypt satirist takes a fellowship post at Harvard

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's most popular satirist Bassem Youssef joined Harvard's Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government as a resident fellow for the spring semester, almost a year after his program was taken off the air for lambasting Egyptian presidents and military men.

Youssef said in a tweet Thursday that he was "proud" to join the school for the semester. The surgeon-turned-satirist has been largely outside Egypt and out of public view since his landmark program was pulled off the air in April 2014 ahead of Egypt's presidential elections — which former military chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi won by a landslide.

The end of Youssef's show reflected the growing intolerance for criticism of authorities and the shrinking space for freedom of expression since 2013. It was part on an evolving crackdown on dissent that has landed thousands of government critics behind bars and silenced many dissenting voices. Authorities contend they are fighting a violent wave of Islamic militancy that aims to destabilize the country.

Youssef said at the time that the private station airing his show came under pressure to stop the satire, which lampooned the military, the rising wave of nationalism and the personality cult forming around el-Sissi. Youssef also said he was concerned about his safety and that of his family.

Youssef took the country by storm when he started uploading satirical news broadcasts to YouTube during the 2011 uprising that forced out longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. His style was directly influenced by Daily Show host Jon Stewart, who described him as a friend. As he rose to prominence, Youssef appeared on the Daily Show and even had Stewart appear as a guest on his show in Cairo.

His program developed an intense following at a time when Egyptians were eager to hold their politicians accountable. But it also stirred controversy. During the one-year rule of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, Youssef was briefly arrested and interrogated after complaints he insulted the presidency.

Youssef was selected in 2013 as one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people in the world.