Bassem Youssef's El Bernameg is well-produced, witty and topical. It is good in its own right, and especially good relative to the tired standards of feigned seriousness, pumped up shouting matches and bad drama for comparable shows on Egyptian and pan-Arab television. Bassem Youssef, however, has become too big for his own good.
When millions of Egyptians -- and particularly the country's purportedly educated elite -- tune into a comedy program with near religious dedication, it is notable. When they do so as a primary news source that reinforces their cocooned political and social biases, it is a problem. When the desperately ill-informed Obama Administration and the cadre of "Egypt specialists" in Washington look to Bassem Youssef's pronouncements to get their very limited views on the country -- as they clearly did after an episode unraveling Morsi's statements on Jews (or Zionists, as the Brotherhood has indignantly responded), it is a problem. When the fickle and reactive Islamists -- from the president on down -- have their emotions whipped up by the unified mocking encouraged by Youssef, it is a problem.
It is not that anything Bassem Youssef is saying is particularly wrong. It is refreshing to see a talking head breaking some of the many hypocritical taboos that stifle thinking in Egypt. The issue, rather, is that Egypt is so polarized that the rallying around intentionally divisive media is making it all the more difficult for this largely poor, uneducated and all-too-easily manipulated country to normalize. "Liberal" Egyptians in particular are at risk of believing that the real life and virtual echoes that stem each week from El Bernameg mean that their views on religion, social norms and civility represent those of the majority of Egyptians. They do not, and such delusions have been central to the disastrous electoral results and pathetic political leadership that Egypt has suffered over the past two years.
Egyptians need comedy and they need real development. They do not need the process of developing to become anymore of a comedy than it already is.