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The U.S. and Egypt Fight Over Jon Stewart

Deleted tweets, charges of propaganda, and other high-level intrigue

Adam Chandler
April 03, 2013

If you haven’t seen Jon Stewart’s 11-minute dismantling of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, it’s not only worth your time, it’s a pretty good guide to understanding what’s been happening in Egypt since the rise of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. (Video below.)

The main focus of Stewart’s ire is Morsi’s order to jail Bassem Youssef, known ’round these parts as Egypt’s Jon Stewart. Youssef even appeared on the Daily Show to sit with fellow satirist Stewart and talk some shop.

Writing for Tablet in January, Lee Smith summed up a bit of why the reception of Stewart’s shtick sometimes falls a little bit short in the burgeoning-ish Egyptian democracy.

Egyptians are known throughout the Middle East for their sense of humor—an instrument frequently directed at themselves, their society, and their own rulers. So, in a sense Youssef is just availing himself of “the great material that Morsi and the rest provide,” according to Salem. The problem, Salem added, is that “these new rulers are not used to being satirized like this and believe that it damages their prestige.”

Moreover, insofar as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists believe that they’re on a divine mission to remake Egyptian society after the image of the almighty, they are apt to see criticism of them as tantamount to insulting God.

Out of Stewart’s skit now comes a kerfuffle between the United States Embassy in Cairo, which tweeted a link to the Daily Show clip, and the Egyptian Embassy, which did not much appreciate the endorsement. After calling out the American tweet (yes, this is the world we are now living in), the U.S. Embassy in Cairo had to take action. As the AP reports:

The embassy’s Twitter account was deleted — and then restored minus the Stewart post — after Egyptian authorities objected to a tweet that contained a link to Stewart’s Monday show in which he joked about the arrest of a high-profile satirist, Bassam Youssef, who has poked fun at Morsi, U.S. officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Diplomatic mission or no, I think the U.S. embassy should stick by the Stewart piece. Here’s the clip, decide for yourself!

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.