If you ask questions you are either a traitor, an infidel, or both. Fact checking authorities is looked upon as a form of mutiny against the country or against God. If you challenge those claims, you don’t like the country or you are misinformed by “mainstream media”, which is not telling you the “truth.”

Quick sanity check – do you think that the quote above references the current Egyptian dictatorship under Sissi or the current US government under Trump’s administration?

The correct answer is actually Egypt, but isn’t it weird that you have to think about it? Bassem Youssef’s book chronicling his adventures and experiences through not one BUT TWO revolutions in Egypt is a fantastic read. His insights into the kind of populism that led to a religious dictatorship, followed by the (totally not a coup?) military dictatorship are extremely intelligent and thought provoking.

He had to literally leave his country because he was going to get arrested and probably jailed forever (maybe executed?) for hosting an Arab version of the Daily Show that didn’t always show the Egyptian government in great light. It was literally the most popular show in Egypt at one point.

You know, after having read Trevor Noah’s book about growing up in Africa and then this book, I’m liking this whole “expand your horizons by reading about people who grew up in elsewhere in the world” thing.

I didn’t know that much about the Arab Spring when it happened, and I got really confused when I tried to learn more about it at the time. This is a fantastic recollection of how it went down in Egypt – first, describing the revolution that overthrew the existing 30 year dictatorship of Mubarak; then, describing how the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis, two very different Islamic groups that hated each other, somehow came together to create a religious majority that made a government based on Sharia law under Morsi; then, describing how the military seized power from Morsi and instituted a fascist military dictatorship that entirely censored free speech afterwards.

I remember reading about the conundrum that the US faced at the time: if you don’t call it a coup, then you still have to give Egypt $1.5 billion in aid. If you call it a coup, well…then you have to recognize the not-peaceful seizure of power from what you considered the legitimate Egyptian government. And if that’s the case, how do you want to handle this on an international stage?

For the first time we didn’t make fun of the Islamists. I directed my sarcasm at the ”liberal” media now. I always felt it was my job to keep whoever was in power in check – and even though these people used to root for me and against the Islamists back in the day, they were now the ones fueling hate and racism.

Reading about Youssef’s struggles under both governments was eye opening. People that supported him when he was speaking out against the religious majority of Morsi’s government then turned around and attacked him when he pointed out the same inconsistencies of Sissi’s military government.

The same people who were attacking him under Morsi’s government and accusing him of being a “secret Christian traitor” were singing his praises under Sissi’s government. He was the same person criticizing the same things, but suddenly those people were 100% A-okay with him when the government they supported was gone. How weird is that?

Moreover, reading about how much worse Sissi’s militaristic regime was was crazy. He went into detail about how the government came out and said they had created a machine that could cure Hepatitis C, AIDS, and cancer. The machine would “take the virus away from the patient and return it to him in the form of a kabab sandwich.” Dude’s a heart surgeon; he knows that’s total bullshit, and yet when he says there’s no way that machine works, he’s called out as being a liar and that his information is fake. Sound familiar?

Obviously that machine didn’t work. Here was the climate in Egypt:

A 22 year old college student was arrested and sentenced to 3 years in jail for photoshopping Mickey Mouse ears onto Sissi’s head.

An Egyptian judge sentenced FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE TO DEATH for killing ONE police officer. All of them were convicted of the same crime!

A British couple was captured and delivered to the police by “concerned citizens” in the subway who’d overheard the two talking in their own language, you know, English.

“The country is in a critical condition now and I can’t allow my channel to be part of this. We are thankful for what you have done in teh past; your contribution to enlighten people against Islamic fascism will not be forgotten. But Egypt doesn’t need you now.”

– Station Owner, shutting down Youssef’s show

He only got a few episodes into his show under the new Regime before the government *forced it off the air*, and he had to flee the country soon afterwards to prevent himself from “disappearing.”

In a time when I worry about whether or not free speech will truly remain free here in America, it’s sobering to think that free speech is not a given in lots of places in the world.

This is the road that I fear we’re going down here in the US currently. Hearing Sean Spicer literally say “We have a respect for the press when it comes to the government, that that is something you can’t ban an entity from. I think that is what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship” , and then turn around as White House Press Secretary a few months later and ban CNN from a white house press meeting is insane.

The parallels with what Youssef’s stories in Egypt and what we saw here in the US are frightening. Who supported Morsi and Sissi in Egypt? Older, less educated people, who were easily manipulated and lied to because they are afraid of people different than them. Who supported/supports Trump? Pretty much the same demographic, except white and Christian this time instead of brown and Islamic. Facts need not enter the discussion – it’s all based on *feelings*.

It’s the same side of the same coin.

“Whenever his supporters were faced with facts and reality they would simply tell you that this is the talk of liberal media who hate Trump and who hate America.”

“But as I was inside the Republican convention it was deja vu for me…I would sometimes translate parts of their speeches in my head and they would sound exactly the same as the ones I heard back home. The fear, the xenophobia, the hate, they all came in different shapes and forms; only, they were wearing more expensive suits and had much pastier skin.”

“The (Egyptian) military supporters still lack any thoughts resembling logic. They are part of the same echo chamber you’d find yourself in if you attended a Trump rally: “Everyone is conspiring against us. They are out to get us, they hate us for our freedoms.”

So, reading this book was a little surreal for me. The same sense of awe that Youssef had regarding how he couldn’t believe the way the people around him were acting and voting is pretty much the same sense of awe that I have regarding people continue to support Trump.

The one perhaps positive difference? Trump’s approval ratings are historically low for a sitting US President in his first 100 days, so maybe people are coming around and thinking for themselves. They may be quiet about it (nobody likes admitting they were wrong), but that’s better than nothing. In comparison, all the Egyptian leaders were apparently extremely popular.

This was a really good read, and I’m glad that Youssef didn’t “disappear” back in Egypt, which looks like it could have been a distinct possibility *several* times.  I’ll definitely keep an eye out in the future for books like this that help give me more of a global perspective of the world.

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