Egyptian satire documentary prompts freedom of speech discussion

Alec Slovenec

HED: Documentary prompts freedom of speech discussion

“Tickling Giants,” a documentary about Egyptian satire, was shown in Bowman Hall on Tuesday evening.

The topic of the film centered on the idea of freedom of speech being a constant threat all over the world, with Egypt being no exception. The event was free to all students.

The documentary told the story of Bassem Youssef, an Egyptian physician who viewed life through a sarcastic lens. Unhappy with Egypt’s political oppression, Youssef created a YouTube channel in 2011 and began uploading political commentary.

Youssef hoped to hit 10,000 views by the end of the week. To his surprise, he had over 35,000 views in less than a day.

From there, he continued to rapidly grow in popularity.

Satire was an unprecedented genre in Egypt — Youssef’s show was revolutionary. Soon after his YouTube debut, he was offered his own television show.

He became known as the “Jon Stewart of Egypt” for his sarcastic, opinionated style of broadcast. He was well-known for criticizing Egypt’s former President Mohamed Morsi.

However, following the military coup against Morsi, Egypt became a more dangerous place for its critics. The show was cancelled abruptly in 2014 due to fears of the military regime.

Youssef’s focus was on “holding authority accountable, regardless of who’s in charge.”

Following the event, a table of professors spoke with members of the audience about free speech and how the situation in Egypt is relevant to our lives in the United States. The table consisted of Joshua Stacher, associate professor in the Department of Political Science; Suzy D’Enbeau, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies; and Idris Kabir Syed, an assistant professor in the Department of Pan-African Studies.

Freedom of speech “is about research. This is about debates. And it’s not about feelings,” Stacher said. “Emotion is somewhere else in this picture.”

Stacher was insistent that the message of the film is universal, and that threats against free speech are not exclusive to countries like Egypt.

“This story that you watch tonight is a lot closer to home than you think it is,” Stacher said. “And these knocks on your free speech are a lot closer than you think they are.”

D’Enbeau approached the film from a communications perspective.

“We see language as really sort of creating the way we perceive the world,” D’enbeau said. “The language that we use — the way that we talk about things — has major implications for what happens in the material world. So you see it creating these sorts of revolutions, or these different protests, or these very extreme reactions.”

Alec Slovenec is the university diversity reporter, contact him at [email protected].