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"Jon Stewart of Egypt" risks jail or worse for satire

Egyptian TV host and satirist Bassem Youssef has been arrested and pulled off the air, but he won’t let fear cripple him

Last Updated Mar 14, 2014 6:00 PM EDT

Update: The weekly television broadcast of Bassem Youssef, "the Jon Stewart of Egypt," has been mysteriously jammed again, preventing Egyptians from seeing it for the second straight week. "This has never been done in the history of TV here. We don't know who is doing it and we frankly don't know what to do," Bassem tells 60 Minutes this evening as an addendum to Sunday's 60 Minutes story about him.

The resemblance of his political humor and his Egyptian TV show to Jon Stewart's is unmistakable. After all, Stewart is Bassem Youssef's hero. But where Jon Stewart's satire has made him a television star and media darling in the U.S., Bassem has faced interrogation by the Egyptian authorities and received death threats. Bob Simon profiles the Egyptian television host and satirist, bringing cameras to his show and capturing him in his element, for the next edition of 60 Minutes, Sunday, March 16 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Bassem's show, "Al Bernameg," ("The Program"), is watched by an estimated 30 million across the Arab world. In a skit last year, he lampooned the cult of personality surrounding Egypt's military ruler, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The skit was met with protests and Bassem's network pulled his next show just minutes before it was due to air. In a country where over a thousand protestors have been killed and journalists and dissidents are arrested and tortured, isn't Bassem afraid something might happen to him? "If it happens, it happens," he tells Simon. "You should let go of your fears...I'm trying to. Because sometimes fear is crippling."

He turned his fears into fun when, under the previous regime of former President Mohammed Morsi, Bassem was detained and interrogated. He was facing charges of insulting the president and Islam. His offense? In part, it was that he'd worn a comically oversized hat on his show, satirizing the hat Morsi wore in a televised ceremony during a visit to Pakistan. "It was fun," Bassem said of the questioning. Even "the lawyers were laughing," he recalls, telling Simon he apparently had fans inside the interrogation room.

Before becoming the toast of the country, Bassem was a cardiac surgeon who'd never really been political until the Tahrir Square protests that brought down former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. At first, Youssef was in the square as a doctor, tending to the wounded protestors. But his life changed forever when a friend asked him to start making satirical videos for YouTube, commenting on the revolution and the people in power. His first episodes received 5 million views. He was soon offered his own television show, but he got another offer around that same time: to be a surgeon in Cleveland.

Asked why he didn't accept the offer in the U.S., a ticket to the American dream, he responds: "Yeah, the American dream. I chose the Egyptian dream, the dream to make a TV show, and then be called an infidel..."