The Current

Americans can relate to life under dictatorship thanks to Trump, says 'Egypt's Jon Stewart'

When Bassem Youssef left his career as a thoracic surgeon to focus on political satire, he earned the moniker of Egypt's Jon Stewart. Now living in the U.S., he sees similarities between his native home under military rule and America in the age of Trump.

The surgeon-turned-comedian fled his country in 2014 and now lives in L.A.

Bassem Youssef now lives in Los Angeles making a go of his new career as a stand-up comedian. (Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)

Read Story Transcript

As an Egyptian native now living in the U.S., political satirist Bassem Youssef sees an eerie similarity between his home country under military rule and the U.S. run by President Donald Trump.

It's a connection he feels can't be ignored.

"Under Trump now, people can actually relate to what it means to live at the beginning of a dictatorship," Youssef told The Current's guest host Megan Williams, reflecting on catering to an American audience.

The thoracic surgeon left his day job during the fading days of the Arab Spring to focus on political satire aimed at Egyptian authorities, later venturing into a popular TV show.

Egyptians watch the first episode of a show by prominent television satirist, Bassem Youssef, called "Al-Bernameg" in Cairo, Oct. 25, 2013. Youssef rose to fame with a satirical online show after the uprising that swept Hosni Mubarak from power in 2011. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters)

But in 2014, when President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came into power, the political climate proved too dangerous for Youssef's TV show to continue. After several threats against his life and two arrests, he decided to pack his bags and flee the country.

Youssef now lives in Los Angeles making a go of his new career as a stand-up comedian. He tells The Current how Americans have reacted to his comedy.

How do you make Americans understand what it was that you were doing in Egypt?

Well, it is very easy to draw references from American political life and use it to explain to them what is going on there — especially under Trump now, people can actually relate to what it means to live at the beginning of a dictatorship.

For the first time, they have a president who is not very cool with criticism. And if it was up to him he would actually close it down, but it's the system that prevented him from doing that.

Your job has obviously changed from what you were doing as a comedian in Egypt. What do you consider your job is as a satirist now in the U.S.?

I am here as an immigrant, as someone who's arriving here in a time when there's a lot of negative political stance against immigrants from other countries. And I think we need to have voices like me to find their way into the American media circles. I think the more our voices are heard, the more that people can accept us for who we are.

'Satirists don't have a solution to anything. We make fun of things,' says the comedian and political satirist Bassem Youssef. 0:42

You've also said you're less interested in President Donald Trump than in the atmosphere he's created. How so?

Trump created an atmosphere where it's OK to be hateful and you call that free speech, where it's OK to kick people out, where it's OK to try to close yourself in and don't allow other people to represent their culture and represent their ideas.

That is something that will stay long before after Donald Trump has left.

So what do you see now when you look at American democracy today?

American democracy is still better than many democracies in the world. But American Democracy has a problem that has been there way before Trump. The problem, in my humble opinion, is that I find it very strange that the representatives who have been elected by the people, after they're elected and when they are in office, they basically get all their decisions and lawmaking influence by the people who donate money to their campaigns — making it more of an oligarchy than a democracy.

Listen to the full discussion near the top of this page.

This segment was produced by The Current's Jessica Linzey.


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