Egypt in TV: Sisi's UN speech, Bassem Youssef's bad manners, a women's coup

What's been on the small screen in Egypt lately, from our TV correspondent Nour Youssef. 

Egypt’s talk show hosts may have always been unethical and unprofessional, but they have never been quite this childish. It is hard to watch Ahmed Moussa giggle whenever his guests call the Qatari royal family and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan names (for their support of the Muslim Brotherhood), and not think of my fourth grade arch enemy, Khaled Picksnosealot.

Last month there were five on-air fights (followed by numerous opportunities for the analysis and re-iteration of insults). One of the fights ended with business tycoon Naguib Sawiris comparing Al Kahera Wal Nas’s Abdelrahim Ali (who has become infamous lately for playing private telephone conversations of activists, undoubtedly leaked to him by the security services)  to "an annoying fly that gets into the mouths of others."  Another was started by the unknown founders of a failed Tamarod-like movement who complained about not getting a share of the praise for toppling president Mohamed Morsi in a seventh grade history book.

“(Mohamed Hassanein) Heikal is the one who made the theory that has held us back all this time!” announced Tamer Amin, who’s had enough of the reverence that the veteran political analyst and historian enjoys in the media. According to Amin, Heikal is guilty of giving the same advice to every Egyptian president: To put only those he can trust, and not those who are competent, in positions of leadership -- advice they all followed religiously, thus holding the country back. It is time to move on to younger thinkers, Amin says. Especially since “most of (Heikal)’s ’judgements and his political prophecies in the past years were wrong.” He ended this virtually unprecedented attack with a reminder that there are over 90 million Egyptians -- surely one of them can fill Heikal's shoes.

The strangest fight so far, however, was between satirist Bassem Youssef (who went into a forced retirement earlier this year when Egypt's "democratic transition" gave him more freedom of expression than he could handle) and AlQahera AlYoum’s Khaled Abu Bakr in New York. According to the latter’s side of the story (which is the whole story as far as the media is concerned), an unprovoked Youssef walked up to him to grudgingly say hello and then came back a moment later screaming obscenities and complaints about not being able to cycle on the Suez road unlike President Abdelfatah el-Sisi, whom he accused Abu Bakr and his colleagues of shamelessly shilling for. Youssef said all this in full view of women and impressionable children, every talk show from Tamer Amin to Osama Mounir took care to note. Even Mortada Mansour – a lawyer who has made a career of picking fights with public figures and threatening to publish the details of their affairs -- gasped at the idea of a man cursing in front of his wife, or worse yet, cursing the people of Egypt. (Anyone who has been to Egypt knows that the people of Egypt curse the people of Egypt all the time.)

The endless reprimands to “The Boy” (Youssef’s new derogatory nickname) included suggestions of emigration and of revoking of his citizenship; a photo-shopped picture of him as a rabbi from Moussa and a monologue from Mounir about how Youssef will never be back on TV because Sisi is a “decent” man who won’t stand by as Youssef expands the vocabulary of innocent Egyptian women, making them prone to lewd behavior and talking back.

This current talk show obsession with manners is an embarrassingly obvious attempt to tap into the viewers’ sense of traditional masculinity, according to which no "decent" man would distress a woman by spoiling her delicate wafer-like ears with profanities, and to shame “impolite” (and thus amoral and thus unpatriotic) political opponents.

That being said, the Best Fight Award goes to Egyptian Nobel laureate Ahmed Zewail and Adel Hamouda. It all started when the former naively referred to Morsi as a scientist (Morsi is an engineer with a PhD from the University of Southern California) and was not cowed by his disgusted interviewer, Lamis el-Hadidi’s, murderous looks.

 “Ahmed Zewail needs to go to a psychiatrist,” Hamouda declared. “Zewail has changed.” According to Hamouda’s understanding of medicine, when a person survives a health crisis (which Zewail recently has) the ensuing anxiety  causes changes in said person’s level of patriotism and ability to identify people by profession. Shockingly, when Hamouda met Zewail after the episode, the good-for-nothing chemist failed to accept his televised diagnosis.

Every local talk show host would also have us believe that the world is still reeling from the greatness of el-Sisi’s speech to the United Nations. Back home Ibrahim Eissa painfully parsed the president’s speech, noting his use of “modest” sentences like "the people realize and I realize," which highlighted his subliminal respect for the individuality of the nation. "See how the realization of the Egyptian people (differs) from his realization...he is the echo of the people...his realization is based on the realization of the people...he didn’t even self-inflate and refer to himself in plural!”  

Human Rights Watch's Kenneth Roth, who dared to Tweet that Sisi did not in fact receive a standing ovation, was indignantly attacked by the Egyptian media and Twittersphere.

Eissa continues to spearhead a campaign against what is left of Egypt's Islamist movement, although the remaining parties, like the Salafis, publicly sided with Sisi against the Muslim Brotherhood. But Eissa thinks allowing the 11 Islamist parties to continue to exist in Egypt is a crime against itself and its constitution, which bans any political parties based on religion. This prompted the head of the Salafi Al-Nour Party to call Wael el-Ibrashy and explain that his party is a lot like the constitution he helped write: they both use Islam as reference point, which in his world is not the same thing as being “based on religion.” That three-word sentence means that a party’s membership would exclude followers of other religions and that the party would monopolize religious rhetoric, he says.

Amr Adeeb lectured men about how important it is to continue to throw one's pants on the floor and not do one's dishes, to prevent "a coup" by women around the world (I wonder why he has coups on his mind?) Good thing we got rid of those misogynist Islamists. 


 Adeeb also opened his TV set to self-styled oracle Tawfik Okasha, who has  temporarily lost his own show to what he calls “corruption in advertising.” Okasha came on to remind the viewers that those who don’t believe the conspiracies he and his colleagues tell them don’t believe in God, since the devil is at the heart of the global conspiracy against Arabs and Muslims. He also wanted to be the first to say that Egypt will have a parliament in less than two months and that it will invade Libya in 6 months to fight the Islamists there.

Meanwhile Amany el-Khayat argued that Daesh (the organization now known as the (un) Islamic State)  “is a Western creation because it is an acronym and Arabs don’t do acronyms!” Wael el-Ibrashy showed two kids eat raw chicken on TV and Gaber el-Karmouty acted out how he tried and failed to pee in a public urinal, because journalism.