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Egyptian satirist Youssef ends show, saying climate in country not suitable for satire

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CAIRO - Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef said Monday he has cancelled his landmark TV show, which broke ground by lambasting the nation's politicians and elites and mocking the pro-military fervour of the past year. Youssef said the atmosphere in the country no longer allows for political satire.

Youssef told a news conference that Saudi-based MBC-Misr TV, which had been carrying his show, had come under pressure to halt it, though he would not say from whom.

Since the military's ouster last summer of the Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, Egypt has seen a surge in nationalism that tolerates little criticism of the army or its former chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who will now be president after winning last week's election in a landslide. Youssef has come under heavy denunciations from backers of the military for his often biting satires of the fervour.

"I'm not a revolutionary and I'm not a warrior. I was expressing my views once a week. The present climate in Egypt is not suitable for a political satire program," Youssef told reporters. "I'm tired of struggling and worrying about my safety and that of my family."

"Stopping the program sends a much stronger message than if it continued," he said.

Youssef's weekly show, "ElBernameg" — Arabic for "The Program" — was launched after the 2011 uprising that ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak and had its heyday during the one-year presidency of Morsi. Youssef stung Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists, as well as liberal politicians and media personalities, with jokes, skits and musical numbers. At one point, he was put under criminal investigation during Morsi's presidency after complaints he insulted the presidency.

But the show has faced more troubles since Morsi's ouster, when he turned his attention more on the military.

The privately owned Egyptian station CBC that was airing the show at the time refused to broadcast one episode, prompting Youssef to jump to MBC-Misr. Transmission of several of his episodes with that station was jammed, but it was never clear who was behind the interference.

The show went on a hiatus soon before campaigning began for last week's presidential election, in which el-Sissi was seen from the start as the certain winner. Youssef said that was a decision by taken the station in hopes of protecting the program and ensuring its continuation.

Youssef's announcement Monday means it will not be returning. At the news conference, he posed with the show's staff of around 50 people, some of them tearful, holding a sign that read, "The End," in Arabic and English.

"In a nutshell, we've gone as far as we can," Youssef said. "We are tired of moving from one network to another network and being under emotional pressure." He said MBC-Misr "tried as much as they could but the pressure was immense."

He said he had offers by non-Arab TV stations to air the show, but declined them because he was concerned he would be branded a "traitor" by the jingoistic pro-military media in Egypt. "Egypt is the program's home. It cannot be broadcast from abroad," he said.

Asked what message he would have for the party or person behind MBC-Misr's decision to stop airing the program, Youssef said: "Why are you scared?" His staff applauded.

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