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Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef cancels show due to 'enormous' pressure

The wildly popular satirical show al-Bernameg has been cancelled with its host Bassem Youssef announcing "it is not allowed" in Egypt
Bassem Youssef answers questions at a press conference on Monday to cancel his popular show (AFP)

Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef said on Monday that he has cancelled his television show, which mocked ex-army chief and president-in-waiting Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, because of “enormous” pressure.

Youssef, a heart surgeon turned comedian, is best known for his show 'al-Bernameg' (The Programme), on which he often poked fun at political leaders. The show received approximately 8.3 million viewers in Egypt, according to independent polling agency Baseera. He moved the show to Saudi-owned channel MBC last year after it was suspended by the private Egyptian broadcaster CBC amid accusations he had insulted Sisi and the military on air. 

At a Monday press conference, Youssef said the circumstances around the show were difficult and pressure facing him were "enormous". 

“I’m tired of struggling and worrying about my safety and that of my family,” he said. "We preferred to end the programme rather than demean it."

Youssef did not elaborate on the pressures he had faced, but he seemed to suggest the military would not tolerate his political satire. "The Programme does not have a space," he said. "It is not allowed."

MBC's Egyptian affiliate, which aired the weekly show, said in April it would be taken off air in May to avoid "influencing" the presidential election. Former army chief Sisi won last week's election with more than 90 percent of the vote, although a lower than expected turnout of 47 percent led some commentators to question the level of popular support enjoyed by the country’s next president.

Social media users were quick to express their disappointment at the show being cancelled, saying it represented how freedoms are being restricted in Egypt.

Youssef has previously mocked the cult-like adulation of Sisi’s supporters and highlighted an increasing intolerance to criticism of the retired field marshal and the army. He supported last year’s military coup that deposed the country’s first elected civilian president, Mohammed Morsi, and accused the now banned Muslim Brotherhood of being responsible for the deaths of its protesters when army forces moved to clear anti-coup demonstrations last July.

Commentators on Twitter pointed to Youssef's support for the coup as contributing to increased restrictions on free expression.

Since last July’s coup, the military backed government has launched a far-reaching crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, designating it a terrorist organisation and locking up many of the group’s leaders. At least 1,400 people have died and over 40,000 have been jailed in the crackdown, according to Egyptian monitoring group Wikithawra.

Youssef decried current restrictions in Egypt at the press conference on Monday, saying “this isn’t a suitable atmosphere for a comedy show”.