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The Harshest Critic of Egypt's Liberal Protesters Is One of Their Own

Egypt's liberals have a powerful, outspoken new critic, and he's one of their own: "My dear anti-Brotherhood liberal, allow me to remind you that just a few weeks ago you were desperately complaining about how grim the future looked, but now that you have been 'relieved' of them you have become a carbon copy of their fascism and discrimination," the critic appealed in Egypt's al-Shorouk newspaper.

That critic? It's Bassem Youssef, the popular satirist whose TV show, al-Bernameg ("The Program"), is an incisive Egyptian version of The Daily Show.

Youssef had more reason than most to be wary of Mohamed Morsy's government. After months of legal challenges, he was arrested in March and questioned to determine if he should face a court case for supposedly insulting Islam and Morsy. He's been a persistent critic of the government. In his weekly column for al-Shorouk the day before the military coup, he voiced his support for the nationwide Tamarod protests. The next day, he took to Twitter in English, telling the Muslim Brotherhood, in referance to the organization's @IkhwanWeb feed, "not only you can tweet in English."

Youssef didn't air his show after the coup, tweeting, "There will be no episode this week, this is a no-laughing matter," but he kept writing. On July 9, his column (translated here for Al Arabiya) speculated that the coup staved off an oppressive crackdown. "We can imagine what could have happened if President Mohammed Mursi stayed in his post," he wrote. "In this parallel world, the decision to shut down private channels was going to be implemented, political and media figures were going to be arrested and accusations of high treason and plans to change the regime were going to be made against prominent politicians."

Defending the shuttering of some news stations broadcasting coverage sympathetic to the Morsy government, he acknowledged that, "Yes, in a perfect world, shutting down channels and isolating leaderships is wrong and a violation of freedoms. But, my dear, you were not living in a perfect world. To those who dream of co-existence, how do you co-exist with he who wants to raise arms in your face and with he who considers killing you and imprisoning you or shutting down your media outlet as a victory for Islam?... My dear reader, in the parallel world, you won't read this article because its writer will either be imprisoned or killed."

This commentary makes Youssef's latest op-ed all the more striking. In his column for al-Shorouk on Tuesday (translated here by Tahrir Squared), he calls for the reopening of TV channels closed by the Egyptian military in the coup. "I do believe that shutting down the Islamist channels [last week] was an important decision during a sensitive period," he writes, "but I'm now calling for their return.... Do not give them the chance to play the victim. What are you afraid of? Of their discriminatory media rhetoric? Or of their public political stupidity?"

Many of Egypt's liberals "are on a 'victory high' -- or so they imagine themselves to be," he writes. "The fascist nature of those people is no different than that of the Islamists who think that their enemies' disappearance off this planet would be a victory for the religion of God. But those on this 'victory high' consider themselves to be different; they justify their fascism for the 'good of the country.' ... We have replaced the 'enemies of Islam' scarecrow with the 'enemies of the state' scarecrow."

Political moderation, Youssef writes, has become an island populated by "those isolated few, their voices fading in the midst of the roaring cries for vengeance and murder." It's a bleak portrait of Egypt's hyper-polarized politics, but Youssef worries it could get worse, concluding, "maybe in the future people will migrate to [the island] and try to get to know this thing called humanity that we've all been stripped of. What I fear most is if a time comes when we pass by that island and cry in dismay: 'Alas, nobody lives there anymore.'"

GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images

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