The Jon Stewart of Egypt

"Tickling Giants" is a 2016 documentary about Dr. Bassem Youssef and his efforts within the realm of free speech ("Tickling Giants")

In celebration of Free Speech Week, the International Film Series screened “Tickling Giants” and hosted a Q&A session with Sarah McLaughlin, a writer and program associate for  the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

FIRE is an organization that defends students’ rights at universities; these rights include freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty and sanctity of conscience.

Before answering questions, McLaughlin talked briefly about freedom of speech and the types of speech that is limited and strained around the world. She also discussed anti-government, blasphemy and hate speech. People from the audience asked her about President Trump and if his hunt for fake news would potentially escalate to full censorship of media. McLaughlin said she wasn’t that concerned about the issue.

Eric Lihammar, a graduate student earning his masters in English education, works with IFS. He picked this movie in particular because it coordinated well with Free Speech Week. He wanted to promote different viewpoints when it came to the topic of free speech.

“We partner with a bunch of different groups. It’s very exciting to be that group that can pull from everyone. I feel like that’s what free speech is all about, taking that censored or not so wanted voice and putting it front and center,” Lihammar said.


“Tickling Giants” follows the story of Dr. Bassem Youssef, the “Jon Stewart of Egypt.” Youssef, a former heart surgeon, wanted to host his own comedy show. He often watched Jon Stewart and used him as inspiration for his own show called “Al Bernameg,” or in English, “The Show.” The documentary follows Youssef, in not only the making of his show, but also through the struggles of living in Cairo, Egypt under a dictatorship. Because countries like Egypt are still in dictatorships, the film further emphasizes the importance of Free Speech Week.

Yossef started his show first on YouTube and quickly gained popularity. He was soon getting offers from TV networks and eventually made it to a big network in Egypt. His show lasted three years, as the country went through revolution and three different leaders. Youssef made fun of the government and its leaders, which in turn put his show under a lot of pressure. He grew up under the dictatorship of President Honsi Mubarak, who was in office for 30 years until 2011. Youssef jokingly called it the end of President Mubarak’s first term. Egypt then had its first democratic election and Mohammed Morsi was sworn in in 2012. Eventually he was taken out of office by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who eventually became president.

UNC sophomore Jasmine Sandoval-Gutierrez, a political science and Mexican-American studies double major liked the documentary.

“Being able to see what other countries face that don’t have free speech, it’s awful really and we take it for granted,” Sandoval-Gutierrez said.

Sandoval-Gutierrez said watching the movie reminded her of the freedoms she has in the U.S. Sandoval-Gutierrez also said she isn’t worried the U.S. will become as repressive as Egypt, because of our constitution and because people are constantly fighting censorship.

“We also have all these branches that allows checks and balances. With that being said, I don’t think we’ll ever get to the point where Egypt is, despite our President being immature in that aspect.” Sandoval-Gutierrez said.


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