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‘Egypt’s Jon Stewart’ back on air

Egyptian TV host Bassem Youssef addresses attendants at a gala dinner party in Cairo, Egypt. After more than four months away, the man known as “Egypt'’s Jon Stewart” returns the airwaves Friday in a country radically different from the one he previously mocked. Satirist Bassem Youssef’s weekly “El-Bernameg,” or “The Program” in Arabic, mocked the country'’s first elected Islamist president and his supporters for mixing religion and politics, took them to task for failing to be inclusive or deliver on people’s demands for change to the extent that some said he was one of the main reasons people turned against Mohammed Morsi. AP photo

Egyptian TV host Bassem Youssef addresses attendants at a gala dinner party in Cairo, Egypt. After more than four months away, the man known as “Egypt'’s Jon Stewart” returns the airwaves Friday in a country radically different from the one he previously mocked. Satirist Bassem Youssef’s weekly “El-Bernameg,” or “The Program” in Arabic, mocked the country'’s first elected Islamist president and his supporters for mixing religion and politics, took them to task for failing to be inclusive or deliver on people’s demands for change to the extent that some said he was one of the main reasons people turned against Mohammed Morsi. AP photo

CAIRO — “Welcome to The Program!” Every week Egyptians obsessively tuned in to hear that slogan and watch groundbreaking TV political satirist Bassem Youssef flay their politicians. Some loved his biting humor, others were infuriated, but no one could ignore it. For four months, they’ve gone without him, his show kept off the air by turmoil surrounding the country’s coup.

Now the man known as “Egypt’s Jon Stewart” is back, returning to the air Friday night in a country radically different from four months ago.

When Youssef’s final show of last season aired, the president was Islamist Mohammed Morsi — Youssef’s favorite target. The satirist mocked him and his Islamist supporters mercilessly week after week for mixing religion and politics and for botching the governing of the country. Soon after the last show, massive protests began against Morsi, paving the way for the military to remove him.

Since then, divisions have grown deeper and hatreds stronger. Hundreds have been killed in crackdowns on protesters demanding Morsi’s reinstatement. Attacks by Islamic extremists have increased. A nationalist, pro-military fervor is gripping the country, leaving little tolerance among the public or officials for criticism of the new leadership, with military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi lionized as a hero.

So the question hanging over Friday’s episode of “El-Bernameg” — Arabic for “The Program”: Will Youssef mock the military-backed leadership and its supporters as sharply as he did Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists?

Doing so could anger Youssef’s mainly liberal fan base, who cheered when he excoriated Islamists and who now largely support the military. But if he avoids it and focuses his jokes against Islamists, he could appear to be caving in to pressure. Morsi supporters — some of whom “hate-watched” Youssef as regularly as the adoring fans — are already predicting the 39-year-old satirist will sell out.

In an article Tuesday, Youssef took up the challenge, criticizing the intimidating atmosphere.

“I admit things are much harder now,” Youssef wrote in his weekly column in Al-Shorouk. “Not only because the raw material coming from religious stations or Morsi has diminished,” he quipped, referring to the rich vein of folly from Islamists he mined for jokes — “but because the general mood is different.”

“In reality, there is no tolerance on the Brotherhood side or among those who call themselves liberals. Everyone is looking for a pharaoh that suits them,” he wrote.

He said military supporters tell him, “Don’t talk about el-Sissi” — “even though they were the same ones waiting for me to talk about Morsi.”

He noted that under Morsi’s year-long presidency, Islamist critics sent him to the prosecution office for questioning on possible charges of insulting the presidency. “I may be visiting (it) again soon at the hands of other people, who allegedly love freedom dearly — when it works in their favor,” he jabbed.

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