Thursday July 31, 2014
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31.07.2014
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Ruthie Blum

Jon Stewart's comedy of errors

Jon Stewart, the host of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," is a very lucky man. This is not merely because the satirist/news anchor is hugely popular, extremely rich and the proud owner of a reputation for fierce honesty cloaked in humor. No, the more relevant reason Stewart should be thanking his lucky stars these days is that he is blessed by virtue of being an American.

This is not something to which the arrogant celebrity would readily admit, mind you — though he might throw some kudos the way of President Barack Obama. When George W. Bush was at the helm of "the home of the free and the brave," Stewart bemoaned the plight of his fellow citizens at the hands of the government and the media, both of which contributed to his fame and fortune.

His particular pet peeves are the Republican Party and Fox News, which he refers to as "Bulls--t Mountain." This is a pretty puerile piece of copywriting coming from such a comedic giant as Stewart is purported to be. But, never mind, his left-wing politics are in the "correct" place, and that's what counts — in the United States, at any rate.

In Egypt, it's a different story entirely. There, the ruling Muslim Brotherhood is not amused. In fact, the government, under President Mohammed Morsi, has issued a warrant for Stewart's arrest and demanded his extradition from the U.S. for the purpose of putting him on trial for "blasphemy and fomenting anti-Egyptian sentiment."

Now that is actually funny.

But there is a very disturbing side to this story, which serves both to illustrate and underscore the depths of derangement involved in radical Islamist domination.

It all began two years ago, during the Arab Spring uprisings. When violent anti-Mubarak protests erupted in Cairo, a heart surgeon named Bassem Youssef took to the streets to administer on-site medical attention to injured demonstrators. In no time, Youssef — who had received his training in the U.S. — began to post politically charged satirical clips on YouTube.

Practically overnight, Youssef became a household name in Egypt. This led to his being given a TV show of his own on a satellite network. "The Program," as it is called, is a smash hit among Egyptians, who are now experiencing the repercussions of having ousted President Hosni Mubarak and ushered in the Muslim Brotherhood at the ballot box. So it is understandable that they should get a thrill watching Youssef make fun of the clerics whose stringent interpretation of Islam is controlling their lives, in and out of the mosque.

It was just a matter of time, then, before Youssef — whose style of satire earned him the nickname "the Egyptian Jon Stewart" — would become targeted by the regime he has been spoofing. Indeed, earlier this month, Youssef was charged with insulting Morsi and defaming Islam. This week, he turned himself in and was granted bail.

In response to his arrest, Youssef made a statement that was a lot milder than anything the real Jon Stewart ever had to say about a Republican politician: "I don't have any personal vendettas against anyone. On the contrary it would be an honor for me to host any of those I criticize on my show it would be a success for myself and also a success for freedom of thought and expression, as it would send a message to the people that they, the Muslim Brotherhood, are in power. They accept criticism and that once they leave the show I would still criticize them. This happens all over the world so why can't it be for us?"

Speaking of the Muslim Brotherhood in terms of "freedom of thought and expression" is as oxymoronic as it is moronic. But let us remember that Youssef is at the mercy of the terrorist organization running his country. Youssef could be in genuine peril as a result of his popular performances, not laughing all the way to the bank, like Stewart.

In all fairness to Stewart, however, he did step up swiftly to the plate to defend his Egyptian counterpart. On "The Daily Show" this week, he lashed out at Morsi in a lengthy rant, an excerpt of which is: "Egypt built the great pyramids; maybe you could get some of the people who worked on those to work on getting you a thicker skin. So Bassem Youssef pokes fun at your hat, and your lack of promised democratic reform. What are you worried about? You have an army! He's got puns and a show; you've got tanks and planes. Silencing a comedian does not qualify you to be the president of Egypt. When you are actually powerful you don't have to be petty."

After the show aired, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo sent a clip out on Twitter, but quickly removed it when Morsi's office denounced it as American "interference" and "propaganda." Morsi must know that his multi-millions of dollars in U.S. aid will continue to flow, no matter what lines he crosses — including demanding the arrest and extradition of an American icon.

But what nobody is bothering to bring up these days — least of all the icon himself — is that Stewart was fully in favor of the uprisings that led to the Muslim Brotherhood takeover in Egypt. This does not make him unusual. Lots of people had high hopes for the so-called Arab Spring. But he owes Fox News a big apology for the vitriol he spewed when its commentators took a more sober view — one which turned out to be accurate.

"We could go all night bringing up examples of pundits and bloviaters on the Right who couldn't do enough to promote democracy in the Middle East, as long as it was done at the end of George Bush's gun," Stewart blathered during one of his broadcasts. "But now, as the Middle Eastern countries choose leaders for themselves? Lordy lord, the pearls can't be clutched enough."

This is comedy at its best.

Ruthie Blum is the author of "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'"

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