Egyptian comic Youssef, a doctor-turned-satirist–turned–international media sensation, recounts the revolution that brought down Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
The author had his moment in the sun when, by long and careful design, he wangled an appearance on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, billed as Egypt’s version of the American comic. He earned that designation, he writes here, by cosmic accident, having jumped in front of an American news camera to take over interpreting duties from a less-capable speaker of English during a demonstration in Cairo. The rest was history—if a very brief history, since Youssef fell from stardom just as quickly as he rose to it, his comedy show having fallen afoul of fundamentalists and government types alike. “My bleeped ‘profanity’ under the Islamist regime was celebrated as a form of resistance,” he writes, “but now everyone was a fucking prude.” Chaste and self-censoring, the new Egyptian society that followed Mubarak found no room for Youssef’s sensibilities, though he says, bitterly, that he was offered a show in exile but declined it for fear that he would be playing into his enemies’ hands. Youssef’s memoir often illustrates the old Belfast graffito that if you aren’t confused, you don’t know what’s going on. His account of the rise of Mohamed Morsi, a supposed revolutionary fully implicated in the old regime, is a case in point, with a familiar denouement: “Sure enough, after he and the Brotherhood won, they did what they do best: screwed everyone over. Let the games begin!” Youssef is usually funny, though occasionally he slathers on the bile a little too thickly. The effect is often as if some shock comic—Doug Stanhope, say—were taking it to The Man (or, better, The Mullah). Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
If you want to understand the Arab Spring—even though it was really the African Spring, set off by a “small puny motherfucking country called Tunisia”—then this odd book is just the guide.