Here are the jokes that got Bassem Youssef, the “Jon Stewart of Egypt,” arrested

Egyptian authorities say Bassem Youssef uses “unacceptable and offensive” language.
Egyptian authorities say Bassem Youssef uses “unacceptable and offensive” language.
Image: AP Photo/Amr Nabil
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Editor’s note: This piece was updated on April 20, 2013 to clarify the translation of Episode 15, part 2, 11:19-12:06

Egyptian surgeon-turned-comedian Bassem Youssef, who hosts an Arabic language fake news show, is back on the air after being jailed last week. His April 5 show was business as usual, likening Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to a magician drawing ideas out of a hat.

Youssef is free on bail and underwent a five-hour interrogation with authorities. He told CNN’s Christiana Amanpour that investigators had forced him to watch recent episodes of his program—named, The Program—and answer their questions about his punch lines. “Line by line, phrase by phrase and joke by joke,” he said.

Youssef is charged with insulting Morsi and showing contempt toward Islam, but he didn’t tell Amanpour which lines caused the biggest stir. So we went through and offer translations and explanations of 10 of his more provocative clips:

Episode 12, part 2, 11:13-11:50

Peppering his Arabic with less-than-fluent English at a recent speech in Germany, Morsi attempts to draw an analogy to drunk driving. “Gas and alcohol don’t mix,” he says in English, perhaps aiming for the colloquialism, “don’t drink and drive.”

Youssef lampoons the president’s language and criticizes him for deception (original English shown here in italics): “No, he’s right. Gas and alcohol don’t mix. Like English and Arabic don’t mix. Like religion and politics don’t mix…The drunk doesn’t do the driving. The liar goes to the fire, and sometimes becomes president. Not necessarily in Egypt, somewhere else I mean.”

Episode 15, Part 2, 6:45-7:34

Egyptians remember how former President Hosni Mubarak’s speeches during the revolution were scheduled to begin “soon” but were not broadcast for hours. Morsi has developed a similar habit. After a recent interview with the president was delayed six hours, Youssef begins a segment with six minutes of his sidekicks ineptly warming up the crowd and stalling speechlessly.

When he finally emerges wearing a regal zebra cape, he says: “Welcome back to the program. Regarding the time, I just wanted to give you an idea of the people’s feeling when they’re waiting for the interview with the president to come on.”

Episode 15, Part 2, 20:39-21:25

Youssef then dissects Morsi’s interview. When the interviewer asks the president whatever happen to alleged thugs he had previously said were arrested for instigating street violence, the president deflects repeatedly. An exasperated Youssef says, “Answer the damn question! Answer the damn question! Shame on you! That part came on at 4 in the morning! Half my staff resigned because of you! Shame on you, brother.”

Episode 15, Part 2, 21:39-22:57

The interviewer asks Morsi again about the young men arrested for instigating violence. He responds that the law forbids anyone from talking about an ongoing investigation or suggesting that there are confessions, saboteurs, instigators, financiers or anything that could add fuel to the fire.

Youssef throws to a clip of Morsi’s speech from the night after the street violence in which he mentions the public prosecutor’s investigation “conducted with the perpetrators, agitators and financiers.” Youssef whips out a gold figurine and declares, “Oscar for best actor, best supporting actor, best screenplay, best director, best movie.”

Episode 14, Part 1, 10:37-11:19

Youssef presents clips of Muslim Brotherhood figures claiming that the organization is outside of power and therefore in the opposition, despite its domination of most state institutions including the presidency. (To get the joke, understand that the Freedom and Justice Party is the Brotherhood’s political wing, and the Guidance Office its leadership body.)

He says, “Maybe they’re right. Anyone outside of power is the opposition. What does that mean? Freedom and Justice Party is the opposition. The Muslim Brotherhood is the opposition. The Guidance Office, oh sorry, we’re talking about people outside power, I’m sorry. Mohamed Morsi is the opposition.”

Episode 15, Part 2, 11:01-11:18

Another clip shows Morsi saying that he consults with everyone when he makes decisions. (Know that Khairat al Shater and Mohamed Badie are top members of the Guidance Office, often thought to be holding the reins of power in the Morsi administration.)

Youssef responds, “Right, the president is the one responsible. He consults with everyone. Is everyone Khairat and Badie, or the entire Guidance Office?”

Episode 15, Part 2, 11:19-12:06 

At a press conference, Badie appears to mutter under his breath standing beside Morsi. The words he says are unintelligible, so Youssef adds speech bubbles to help the viewer out. As Morsi speaks, “To achieve security, to solve the people’s problems, to stand up to crises,” Badie whispers, “Retaliation” or “Retribution” for the martyrs of the revolution. Here, Youssef highlights that even in a televised news conference, Badie is telling Morsi what to say. Moreover, it pokes fun at the Brotherhood’s seeming lack of commitment to the demands of the revolution, since Morsi can’t seem to remember one of the most important ones.

Morsi continues: “and to the remnants of the old regime” and Badie blurts, “Retribution.” The president goes on: “You know what’s happening on the ground: traffic, security, instability,” and his minder says, “Retribution.” Morsi keeps going, “The claim that Egypt has problems…” and glances at Badie as he repeats, “Retribution.” He tries to continue and Badie says exasperatedly, “Retribution, man!”

Episode 12, Part 2, 13:15-13:49

Morsi boasted about investments he secured on a recent trip to China, though most of the deals were negotiated before the revolution. When a reporter asks a Brotherhood official what, then, is new about the investments, he responds “We said those facilities will be, uh,” and then trails off indecipherable.

Youssef calls that response the Brotherhood’s answer to everything. “Where are your campaign promises?” he asks. “Where are the conspiracies you talk about day and night? Where’s the greatest constitution known to mankind? Where’s ‘If I’ve made a mistake, fight me’? And ‘Come let’s talk about it. We realized we were wrong.’ All that is summed up in one response.” He replays the clip of the official: “Will be, uh…” and then gibberish.

Youssef concludes: “This is the prepared answer for anything in this country. The president’s accomplishments, the president’s promises, anything we trusted the Brotherhood on.” And he replays the nonsensical comment again.

Episode 15, Part 1, 2:56-3:40

Genuine news clips report that Morsi was signed up to win a trip to the moon. Funny enough, but Youssef then suggests Morsi would only go to the moon to get a bunch of money like the countries he’s already visited. Then he lists some of the countries Morsi has visited, emphasizing one of the Brotherhood’s closest allies.

“Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, Belgium, Italy, Greece, which is begging, America, Turkey, Qatar, of course, Saudi Arabia again, Germany, Qatar, Qatar, Qatar, Qatar.”

Episode 14, Part 3, 12:06-13:43

The show features a guest comic each week and one of them got himself and Youssef into trouble for comments about Islam. Ali Qandil does a bit on the Muslim daily prayer. He imitates the harsh tone of the call to prayer broadcast five times a day over poor quality loud speakers. “Hey, buddy what’s that tone for? What’s going on? Take it easy,” he says. “Well, I am not coming then! I’m tired, or I will pray at home.” Then he mimics the call to prayer but replaces the actual words with: “Leave the internet!”

Qandil criticizes the fire and brimstone of Muslim preachers at the communal prayer and sermon each Friday: “Every week you find someone shouting, cursing and yelling at you.” His alternative? “Try to win them, you know better than anyone they don’t come all the time. Finally we have some customers! Maybe they will come again on a Tuesday or a Sunday.”