‘Revolution for Dummies’: Bassem Youssef laughs through the ‘Arab spring’

Sunday 14/05/2017
Cover of Bassem Youssef’s “Revolution for Dummies.”

When people try to understand the Middle East, they usually start by reading non-fiction books to figure out who is involved and why. Bassem Youssef, an Egyptian satirist, argues in his book “Revolution for Dummies“ that, even after all the “expert” analysis, the crisis remains: “If you think you are ever going to truly understand what is happening in the Middle East… stop!”
Youssef, known as the “Jon Stewart of Egypt,” was a heart surgeon who filmed YouTube skits at home during the Egyptian revolution. He later hosted his own television show, “Al Bernameg,” which became the most popular TV programme in Egypt.
Youssef’s satire, however, got him into trouble. He was arrested for insulting the Egyptian presi­dency and Islam. Even though his case was dismissed, his television show was cancelled and he had to flee Egypt to save his life.
In “Revolution for Dummies,” Youssef occasionally throws jabs at US hypocrisy in criticising Middle Eastern regimes while spending more than $5 billion in the past election to choose a president for four years. To Youssef, that is like “throwing a massive new wedding for your spoiled-brat daughter every four years because she keeps marrying and divorcing rat-schmucks like Ted Cruz and Chris Christie.”
One American Youssef does admire is Stewart, former host of the Comedy Channel’s “The Daily Show.” Since Youssef had no experience in television, he needed Stewart and decided to insert his name in all his interviews with for­eign newspapers: “Who was your inspiration?” “Jon Stewart.” “What is your biggest dream?” “To have a show like Jon Stewart’s.” “How often do you have bowel move­ments?” “Well, three times a day after watching reruns of ‘The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”’
The plan worked and Stewart invited Youssef to his office for a chat and later to be a guest on his show. They have remained friends since.
Youssef also mocks dictator­ships in his book. Dictators had gained so much power in many places, he said, that elections had become ridiculous. “Until 2005, we didn’t have elections,” Youssef wrote. “We had referendums with yes-or-no votes where there was only one candidate. During Nasser, the results of these referendums were 99.5% yes. I kid you not. There was one human being who said no to Nasser. That was the reason he was split in half.”
Youssef’s sarcasm is hilarious throughout the book but funniest and most biting when he mocks Islamists. For example, a sheikh said the reason the Titanic sank was because Kate Winslet posed nude for Leonardo DiCaprio, so a fictional nude portrait session caused the rage of God to sink the actual ship.
At one point, Islamists had a 75% majority in the Egyp­tian parliament. On the first day of the parliament, people usually stand for the national anthem. Many Islamists did not stand and their leader said: “We only stand for Allah. The national anthem is a Western tradition.” However, a few years later this same leader stood next to military officers as the national anthem played. Youssef added: “He would also sit, fetch and roll over whenever the military asked him to do so.”
“Revolution for Dummies” is a laugh-out-loud commentary on the ridiculousness of Egypt and the United States. Youssef simplifies the overly complicated situation in the Middle East into one conclusion: The Arab world will always be a mess.