Using comedy for Arabic culture immersion


On Jan. 26 at the Moore Theater in Seattle, Egyptian comedian and satirist Bassem Youssef hosted a show discussing the topics of propaganda in the media as well as current political events in Egypt and the United States. The Arabic Cultural Student Association provided free tickets for Bellevue College Students. The ACSA worked together as a team with their program coordinator since December to book tickets for the event.

At the event, Youssef discussed in detail examples of falsehoods perpetuated by the Egyptian media, including claims that the Egyptian military had invented a cure for AIDS and that Hilary Clinton was conspiring against Egypt. Youseff also discussed how the Egyptian media demonizes political protestors by calling them sexual deviants and spies, as well as how the Egyptian government blames its own problems on the entire world being against Egypt.

Youssef started as a cardiac surgeon in Cairo before uploading his own comedy show, “The B+ Show” to YouTube, in which he would satirize the Egyptian media and government. His YouTube channel went viral and was loved by many Egyptians who felt their opinions on Egypt’s government and media were being silenced. After the success of B+, Youseff was offered his own comedy show by a major Egyptian news channel. His comedy show is now known as “Al Bernameg.”

“Al Bernameg” continued to satirize Egyptian celebrities, politicians and media. In 2012, Youseff caught the eye of “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart, and was invited to come on to “The Daily Show” for an interview. A year later, Jon Stewart flew to Egypt to appear on an episode of “Al Bernameg.” As Youseff’s show gained more popularity, more and more people tried filing defamation lawsuits against Youseff. Youseff was arrested for an episode in his show for wearing a hat that mocked the Egyptian president at the time, Mohamed Morsi.

During the 2014 Egyptian presidential election campaign, Youseff announced that he was temporarily shutting down “Al Bernameg” for his own safety. Since criticism of politics in the form of comedy was becoming too dangerous in Egypt, Youseff moved to the United States to continue his work as a comedian. Youseff now lives in California and plans to gain popularity by satirizing American politics.

“What I am working on is to find a foothold in the American media. I would like to have my own show in English directed to everybody living in America that people from all kinds of backgrounds living in America could relate to. If I am successful, me being in the spotlight as a successful person would indirectly bring attention to Egypt. People would say ‘why is this guy here, what happened to him to come here,’ and people would find out,” said Youssef.

“He talks to people on both sides. He kind of outlines the pros and cons of both and makes fun of it at the same time. Youseff also brings that Arab origination and culture with him. Experiences that we can learn from here in this country as well,” said ACSA club leader Fatima Sheik.

“I hope students take away a new appreciation for Middle Eastern culture and how we connect so much. We all connect through humor, in all cultures it’s something we can connect with and empathize with,” said ACSA member Sophia Ossorio.

The ACSA has several more events planned for the rest of the quarter. A bake sale with Middle Eastern food on Feb. 14 and Feb. 15, an Arabic Heritage Week, a leadership trip and a cultural night with other clubs are planned.
“In Bellevue College we have a lot of international students, and it’s important to appreciate every person. Part of that is the Arab world, knowing we have Arab international students and Arab students from Washington as well.

We need to appreciate these people for who they are. Politics aside, these people have such beautiful lives that they’ve built for themselves, and we can really take hold of that and learn what’s most important from there,” Sheik added.