Egypt’s top TV satirist said on Monday his show had been canceled, amid speculation it was because his latest script poked fun at a presidential election won by the former army chief.
Bassem Youssef, known as the “Egyptian Jon Stewart”, told a news conference the Saudi-owned MBC Masr TV station had been put under more pressure “than it could handle”.
Last week’s presidential election was won easily by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the man who, as army chief, toppled Egypt’s first freely-elected leader, Islamist Mohamed Mursi, last year.
“The pressures have been made from the first episode and MBC Masr had fought for us as much as possible,” said Youssef.
Youssef’s predicament will raise new questions about freedom of expression in Egypt, the most populous Arab state.
His associates told Reuters that his latest show, never broadcast, had made fun of the low turnout in the presidential vote, the pro-Sisi media frenzy and women supporters dancing at polling stations.
“I thank MBC Masr for hosting us and I can’t blame it for the pressures it had been put under. It was more than it could handle,” Youssef said.
“Those who think there has not been pressure are delusional.”
MBC group spokesman Mazen Hayek said the network had nothing to do with the decision to pull the show off air. “Like Bassem said, MBC did its best to keep the program on air.”
Asked to comment on media reports that Saudi Arabian authorities had pressured MBC to end the show, he said: “I am not in a position to confirm or deny such rumors.”
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait showered Egypt with billions of dollars in aid after Sisi ousted Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood last year, following mass protests against his rule.
The Gulf countries see the Muslim Brotherhood as an existential threat to their monarchies.
Security forces have mounted a fierce crackdown against the Brotherhood, killing hundreds in street protests and jailing thousands. Secular pro-democracy activists have also been rounded up.
Asked to comment on freedom of expression in Egypt, Youssef answered with his trademark sarcasm:
“We are living in the most glorious years of democracy in Egypt, and may the tongue of the person who does not agree with that be cut off.”
Youssef rose to fame with a satirical online show after the revolt that swept autocrat Hosni Mubarak from power in 2011. His program, later broadcast on television, has been compared to the U.S. satirical comedy “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”.
He was pulled off the air last year while working for Egypt’s private CBC channel after he mocked Sisi. He had also taken many jabs at Mursi.
“I’m not a fighter or an opposition. I am a comic anchor, yet I have been subjected to a number of legal complaints, possibly more than anyone in history, both during and after Mursi’s time,” he said.
“We hope to live the day when we can do the show the way we want it, with no pressures.”