Having just sold out five Sydney shows, including one at the iconic Sydney Opera House as part of his world tour, Bassem Youssef is a comedy force to be reckoned with.
Bassem’s initial rise to fame followed his Egyptian show Al-Bernameg (The Show), where he criticized the Muslim Brotherhood, and satirized aspects of the Egyptian ruling class following the Egyptian revolution in 2011. The impending threat to his safety subsequently led him to seek refuge in the United States in 2014 – a country he announced at his show he recently became a citizen of.
Despite the Egyptian government’s rejection of the surgeon-turned-comedian’s wildly successful show, Bassem has since been continuing to do both Egyptians as well as the Middle East, also known as South West Asia and North Africa (SWANA), proud – not only for his sharp wit, but for his unequivocal public stance against the Palestinian genocide of 2023.
Although already prolific amongst Egyptians both in Egypt and in the diaspora, Bassem’s iconic interview with Piers Morgan in October made him a household name internationally, totaling a whopping 21 million views to date on Piers’ own YouTube channel alone.
Apart from his genius delivery, his satirical and dark humor showcased the Egyptian people’s ability to engage with disturbing news in a digestible and memorable way, at least leaving a lasting impression – if not changing fence-sitting minds.
Notwithstanding the success of both this and Bassem’s latest conversation with Piers where the brave comedian educated Piers further on some of the Arab perspectives on Palestine, nothing could have prepared me for the laughs to come while attending several of his Sydney comedy shows last week.
Bassem delivered each punchline on each night effortlessly, as if it were fresh every evening, every time. In true Egyptian style, no member of the audience was safe from being roasted – no matter if they were Egyptian, Arab or White. It’s as if the audience were, too, performers in the show. To quote Bassem on his first performance night in Sydney: “you give me energy, and I give you energy.”
It was this energy, this sense of community, solidarity and union, that made the show extra special. No matter which part of the SWANA region we were from, from which gender or religion, we knew, at least for this moment in time, it didn’t matter – we were all there to laugh. And to hear the truth.
This truth Bassem so skillfully weaves together in his standup comedy. Whether it was the truth of how Muslims differ in different parts of the world, how Arabs come across to non-Arabs, and even how Christians face ongoing persecution in the Middle East, it was all delivered in good spirit, humor, and importantly – in truth.
To watch a Bassem Youssef show at this horrifying point in our history, where the death toll in Palestine is currently estimated at 20,000, is not for pure entertainment. It’s not even just to show solidarity with our fellow Middle Eastern brothers and sisters, or because Bassem is trending at the moment.
To attend a Bassem Youssef show is to go to hear the truth of what people from SWANA have been dying to say out loud for years. But for fear of being viewed as the ‘Angry Arab’ – canceled, unemployed, doxxed, threatened, or even killed – we have not. To quote Australian Muslim comedian Nazeem Hussain “[Bassem] made us all feel less afraid to speak up for Palestinians, even if you’re not as buff as him.”
Although he made it clear he’s not a freedom fighter, Bassem said what Palestinians and Arabs have been feeling and experiencing for decades. During the Six-Day War of 1967, or the Naksa (setback), Egypt’s casualties alone numbered more than 11,000, totaling at least 18,000 between Egypt, Jordan and Syria.
Despite the destruction caused by Israel to Egypt, Jordan and Syria in that war alone, Israel at the time accepted a ceasefire proposed by the UN Security Council on 7 June. But the damage had already been done – Israel had already succeeded in creating tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees with its absorption of the whole of Palestine. A legacy that continues today.
One of the most iconic and special of Bassem’s performances in Sydney was his Sydney Opera House show on the 17 November, selling out the Opera Houses’ largest and most iconic theater with an audience capacity of over 2000. But it was not only the sheer volume of people wanting to hear what the satirical genius had to say that was the most inspiring aspect.
When the Australian government opted to project the colors of the Israeli flag on Sydney’s Opera House as a sign of solidarity soon after 7 October 2023, a sinking feeling was felt by Arabs nationwide. It was known, felt, implied – where is the solidarity for the years of ongoing loss and death in SWANA nations? Where is the solidarity for the thousands of children killed in Gaza since 2008, and the thousands more since 7 October to date?
Yet just over a month later, at Bassem Youssef’s sold out show, the comedian was inside our beloved Sydney Opera House – expressing solidarity with Palestinians by raising their flag – drawing attention to the need for urgent and immediate support.
By dancing the Dabke, he expressed cohesion and union with all SWANA nations. And he did so with unequivocal conviction, fearlessness and importantly, joy.
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It has been the joy of watching an Egyptian-born, Muslim, vegan, buff, ex-practicing surgeon, turn to one of the most human ways of communication – storytelling – with that Egyptian trademark of snide humor, cheekiness, and joy – that has offered a glimmer of hope to the distraught amongst us. If one man can live his life by raising awareness, raising a flag, and, metaphorically, raising a finger to the status quo – maybe we all can too.
Israel is currently being urged to engage in a permanent ceasefire now. To rephrase Bassem who was later referenced by Florida Representative Angie Nixon: “how many dead Palestinians would be enough?”
Not one more. Permanent Ceasefire now.
You can sign and share this open call for immediate ceasefire now, or pressure your local representative to call for a permanent ceasefire:
Bassem will continue to tour throughout 2023 and 2024.
The opinions and ideas expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Egyptian Streets’ editorial team. To submit an opinion article, please email [email protected].