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Sunday, April 07, 2013

Islamic Satire

Bassem Yousuf

Mr. Yousuf points out the foibles of the Muslim Bortherhood in Egypt, and sometimes mocks Mr. Morsi, the President. Mr. Morsi has come to view himself and the Brotherhood as the State itself, and possibly as the Din (the Faith) itself, and like many leaders of Arab countries, tends to view criticism of himself as criticism of Islam, and to think that mockery of his pomposity and self-importance is mockery of Islam itself.

...Egypt has become deeply polarised. Many pious, ordinary citizens agree that performers such as Mr Youssef come close to exceeding the bounds of decency. Egyptian law forbids any insult to religion, while tradition immunises Arab heads of state from public ridicule. Yet it remains striking that whereas the Morsi government has opted to punish its critics, it has largely spared right-wing religious commentators who deride Egypt’s opposition as infidels, routinely blast Jews and Shias, and incite hatred against Egypt’s large Christian minority. Moreover, its resort to hounding the press smacks of the methods used by Hosni Mubarak’s ousted regime.

Or, indeed, of other Arab countries, where satirists in particular have paid a high price for dissent. Since November, Sami Fehri, a Tunisian producer of a political puppet show that mocked his country’s Islamist leaders, has been in prison on corruption charges. Nadim Koteich, whose bitterly sarcastic take-offs of politicians, in particular those of Hizbullah, the Shia party-cum-militia, are popular on Lebanon’s Future TV, often gets death threats. Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger, has been in jail since last June for “ridiculing Islamic religious figures”. Hadi al-Mahdi, an Iraqi radio humorist, was shot dead in 2011.

The region’s leaders might pause to ponder the words of Ahmed Sanoussi, a Moroccan comedian better known as Bziz. After an 18-year ban from appearing in public, he was asked if there should be any rules for satire. “Yes,” he said, “to attack only the powerful, not the weak.”

As I continue my studies of Arabic, I think I shall try to find those writers who mock and satirize the inflated egos of the Arabic speaking countries.


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