For Americans, it was Jon Stewart as national treasure. In a virtuoso performance Monday, the American satirist ridiculed the Egyptian government’s crackdown on Cairo comedian – and Stewart protégé – Bassem Youssef. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch Stewart’s mock conversation with Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi here.
“What are you worried about, Mr. President – the power of satire to overthrow the status quo?” Stewart deadpanned. “Just so you know, there’s been a grand total of, uh, zero toppled governments we’ve brought about.”
In Egypt, members of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood saw Stewart’s bit differently. The comedian’s skewering of Mursi was the latest insult from a nation that backed Egypt’s pro-American dictators for decades. Told that cracking down on comedians was playing poorly in Washington, a usually moderate senior Brotherhood member argued that Western notions of free speech were being used, yet again, to denigrate Islam.
Egypt’s political polarization is intensifying. Crucial parliamentary elections have been delayed until October. Both sides are increasingly engaging in street violence and vitriol. Opposition leader Mohammad ElBaradei compared the government to “fascist regimes” on Twitter this week. Mursi vowed to “break the neck” of anyone who throws a petrol bomb on the street.