Egypt TV satirist Bassem Youssef
Comics such as Bassem Youssef (Picture) are attacked by Islamist leaders – but satire’s job is to lampoon the powerful.

At a friend’s birthday party in Cairo recently, one of the most popular songs the DJ in the downtown bar played that night was one consisting entirely of a speech Mohamed Morsi made soon after becoming president of Egypt, to a dance beat.Everyone on the dance floor knew the words, which they would yell in between giggles of derision.

Just a few days earlier in response to a curfew that Morsi slapped on the canal cities of Port Said, Suez and Ismailiyya, football fans arranged for matches to coincide with the start of the curfew and residents took it a step further by launching protests that began 15 minutes before the start of the curfew.

To understand Bassem Youssef – the heart surgeon turned comedian who has been on the receiving end of legal trouble – in his Egyptian context and not simply as the “Egyptian Jon Stewart”, think of his satire as being like this kind of popular derision projected to 30 million viewers across the Arab world. Youssef faces several legal complaints and was summoned recently by a prosecutor general – who was controversially appointed by Morsi – and questioned over allegations of insulting the president, Islam and “spreading false news with the aim of disrupting public order”.

What is satire if not a marriage of civil disobedience to a laugh track, a potent brew of derision and lack of respect that acts as a nettle sting on the thin skin of the humourless?

Post-revolution, Bassem Youssef and other comedians name names of those in power and the powerful. It’s exactly because they neither respect nor obey that they have become targets of Islamists who think they’ve inherited countries unchanged since the days of Mubarak, Tunisia’s Zein El Abidine Ben Ali, and the rest.

In Tunisia, Sami Fehri, a producer of a political puppet show that mocked the ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, has been in jail since November.

These are just a few, of many examples of where humour, satire and comedy are brave acts of civil disobedience, Wednesday 10 April 2013