Bassem Youssef

  • Spring 2015

Bassem Youssef, dubbed the Jon Stewart of the Arab World, was the host of popular TV show Al-Bernameg - which was the first of its kind political satire show in the Middle East region. Originally an online 5-minute show, Al-Bernameg became the most watched show in the history of Egyptian TV with an average of 40 million viewers every week, in addition to over 2 million subscribers on YouTube and 700 million views on his own channel and other channels.

The B+ show started as a 5-minute show on YouTube in 2011, gaining five million views in only three months. Nine webisodes later, Egyptian channel ONTV offered Youssef to create a weekly political satire TV show "Al-Bernameg" which means "the show". Al-Bernameg received wide acclaim around the world with coverage in some of the biggest media outlets, topping it off with Youssef’s appearance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart in June 2012 for an extended interview and another one in March 2013.

In November 2012, Al-Bernameg moved from ONTV's smallest studio to Radio Theater in Cairo’s downtown. The second season, which premiered in November 2012 on CBC network, was the first live audience show in the Middle East. The show gained tremendous success through its humorous yet bold criticism of the ruling regime and President Morsi, representing the Muslim Brotherhood. Soon after the show started airing, complaints were filed against Youssef, accusing him of insulting Islam, President Morsi and disrupting public order and peace. Youssef was issued an arrest warrant in March 2013 and turned himself in the next day where he was questioned for five hours and released on bail. But the complaints continued, in addition to the recurring direct threats and insults to Youssef by many “Islamist” preachers and media figures, putting more pressure on him and his team. In recognition of his success, Youssef was named among the Time Magazine most influential list for 2013 - under the “Pioneers” category. In June 2013, Youssef hosted Jon Stewart on Al-Bernameg in Cairo marking the season’s peak.

After a four-month break, Youssef appeared on air in October 2013, with a show that stirred a lot of controversy and criticism. In response to the popular criticism and discontent the show has caused, CBC, the show’s broadcaster, distanced itself from the show and its creators, and decided to stop airing it on its channels. Meanwhile, more than 120 complaints against Youssef and the show were filed at the General Prosecutor’s office, accusing him of insulting the Armed Forces, President Adly Mansour and describing the June 30 revolution as a military coup, in addition to disrupting public order and peace. The General prosecutor has transferred some of the complaints for investigation, which remain subject to the prosecutor’s decision and judgment till this moment. In November 2013 was named one of four recipients by the Committee to Protect Journalists for the International Press Freedom Award.

Al-Bernameg reappeared on MBC Masr satellite channel on February 7, 2014, achieving unprecedented weekly viewership ratings for 11 consecutive weeks.

The attacks on Youssef and his show continued. This included Lawsuits, public smearing, putting his theater under siege and even jamming the satellite signal of his show during airing. The culprit remains officially unknown till that day. 

In June 2014, Al-Bernameg team held a press conference where Youssef announced the termination of the show due to pressure on both the show and the airing channel. Although the real cause was ambiguous and never stated directly, Youssef cited fear for his personal safety and his family’s safety as strong reasons for him to stop.

Youssef majored in cardiothoracic surgery, passed the United States Medical License Exam (USMLE) and is a member of the Royal College of Surgeons (MRCS).