GLENN: There's a guy -- there's very few people that have come on this program that have -- that I've put into the category of a real hero, a global hero. Somebody who is actually facing down giants and not popular with anyone, except the people. And has stared down true dictators. And rewriting history and the book of how things are done. Living in Egypt, there are -- they don't do satire. They don't have The Daily Show. They don't have shows where you take on the president. You find yourself in a prison. The world is radically different in the Middle East.
There's a guy who was a doctor. And during the Arab Spring, he went out to Tahrir Square, and he just started aiding people, helping people. And what he saw was different than what he was seeing on television.
He decided to do a YouTube television show with a friend. And it became an overnight success, gigantic. Before you know it, he's now doing a television show, where he's actually taking on the president of his country. And doing things that had never, ever been done before under a dictatorship. He has been hated by Mubarak. He was arrested by Morsi, and el-Sisi doesn't like him all that much either. His name is Dr. Bassem Youssef, and he joins us now. They call him the Jon Stewart of Egypt. Welcome, Bassem, how are you?
BASSEM: Hello, Glenn, how are you? Such a pleasure to talk to you. Man, I mean, I've kind of known you forever. Such a pleasure. How are you?
GLENN: Thank you. I would imagine that you have strong opinions about me, and we can get to those if you care to later. But I would rather talk about you.
BASSEM: No, no, no. I enjoy all your views, and I have to say, I have watched you, I don't know, make -- I find your ways and -- I don't know. I respect all kinds of freedom of speech. And I have no strong opinions about you at all, no.
GLENN: That's fine. So, Bassem,the one thing that we should come together on was I was really concerned about the Arab Spring because of the Muslim Brotherhood.
GLENN: And I really felt that the -- as I said at the time, Mubarak is a monster. And we as Americans, we helped create him. I mean, we have no business to -- to tell anybody about freedom. We were in bed with Mubarak for a long time. Horrible person. And here we are with our ghost plane, sending people and saying, we're not going to torture anybody. We'll just bring to you Mubarak. And I was concerned because I do know the history of the Middle East. Not like you do. And I do know the -- I take people who are Islamic extremists at their word.
And I saw the Arab Spring as an opportunity for those who wanted to create caliphates. As it turns out, you guys dodged a bullet, and it was ISIS, you know, forming the caliphate. And you guys got away from the Muslim Brotherhood.
In watching your documentary, I can't imagine living it. Can you -- can you tell the American people what it is like to go through a revolution?
BASSEM: Yeah. It's very chaotic. I chose comedy and satire to go through with it. Which is very difficult. Because we happened to write comedy where things were basically falling apart outside, especially threats -- I mean, like there were people -- I was put under siege in my theater, writing my show. And I was put under siege by people who were supporters by the military, not the Islamists.
So -- so the thing is, you are completely right about being scared of the Islamist. And it's totally justified. But what people miss is that Islamism, radical Islamism has been also a tool by military as much as it is a tool by Islamists.
GLENN: Oh, yeah. Oh, I agree.
BASSEM: Yeah. It was set out in 1980, who actually gave a greater power to Sharia in the Constitution in order to have unlimited times of reelection. It was (inaudible) in Pakistan, who also pushed into the Sharia laws, so that he will appease the Islamists. It was Gaafar Nimeiry in Sudan, who changed the country into an Islamic State because military dictatorship was not working.
And even now, right now, the military under el-Sisi is using all the conservative values of conservatism. It's kind of like our Islamism is better than their Islamism. And it has put people in jail because if they try to reform some interpretation of the religion.
So the thing is, I don't think that the Muslim Brotherhood were on the way to the caliphate. As a matter of fact, they were in bed with the military. The military actually pushed them to the front, because the Muslim Brotherhood would give them guarantees so they will keep their own benefits.
BASSEM: So it is basically a game. You know that the most radical people in Egypt are the Salitis, which are kind of like the right, right, right wing. It's kind of like Muslim Brotherhood on steroids. They were created by the Mubarak regime. And why?
Because these military regimes they tell the West, hey, we are quote and quote, secular. If you go, you will have these people to deal with. So it's kind of like, either me or chaos. Either me or ISIS. What do you choose?
So, of course, all of the Western (inaudible) say, all right. You know what, he's a son of an SOB. But he's our SOB. And it is in their benefit to keep that duality. So they do not -- they do not support education. They don't support awareness. They don't support openness. It is their own best interest to have people stuck between the duality. The bully with the gun or the bully with the Sharia.
GLENN: So we see -- we see people over here. We're marching in the streets. And both sides are marching in the streets now. And they're, I'm so oppressed. And blah, blah, blah. And then you see people like you, where -- where people in America don't have any concept of going on television or going online and telling a joke about a president or a leader and then being arrested for that or being disappeared.
BASSEM: Yeah. Yeah. Yes, yes. And this is a blessing. I mean, I know that you guys are always kind of concerned about how the state of -- and I think this is a good thing. I mean, when I was asked, like, Bassem, do you think we are like a bunch of kids because we are complaining, while you guys went through a lot? I said, no, I think you should be complaining. Because it's like you guys are like someone who is used to a certain kind of service. He goes into a restaurant, he doesn't like his soup, it's cool, he turns it away.
Nobody on the other table is like, oh, you should be grateful because other people in the world don't have food to eat.
No, you have actual war, like for the past 400 years. Civil war. Revolution, in the beginning. Civil rights, to get this kind of service.
So when people think that this is not the kind of service they paid for through their history, they -- they should be upset. And it's fine. So it doesn't have -- you shouldn't be waiting until it actually goes down the drain.
GLENN: So I agree with you. But here's where, you know -- I'm probably a little more like you in some ways. I'm hated by every president in our country. I don't think I've been liked by a president since Ronald Reagan.
BASSEM: Good for you.
GLENN: Yeah. But the last two presidents have made it personal. The last two presidents have -- and it's getting worse -- are making this very, very personal. And we're starting to creep to a place to where, you know, the president just this last weekend said, you know, you should be fired from your job. You know, they should run you out of business. Whatever. For freedom of speech.
And Americans are losing the understanding, on both sides of the aisle, that the only speech that needs protecting is the speech that the majority or those in power don't like. And so we --
GLENN: And so we have to -- how can you teach Americans that you -- you got to tolerate the stuff you really despise.
BASSEM: Well, actually, I don't think you really need to teach Americans. You have a president to teach. Because the thing is, this is -- as an outsider, as a complete outsider, that is my biggest problem with the current president. It's not because he's -- he's biased against people like me who has skin like me, has an accent like me, or comes from a place like me, because that's kind of like a joke.
My biggest issue with him is that he doesn't understand the concept of becoming a public servant. He is still acting as a celebrity rich guy who doesn't accept criticism.
And you know what really bugged me? Not all -- like, there's a lot of stuff that bugs me about him. But like, this year, when he said, you know what, I'm not going to the correspondent dinner. I'm not going to that tradition where every president in the United States since -- the only one who bailed out was Reagan because he was shot, you know. So, you know, he said I'm not going so that you can make fun of me. And this is a tradition that all -- you don't understand outside of America, how the world looks at the correspondent dinner. And it's like, wow, they have a president. He's there. And he's being roasted for a whole night. This is amazing.
And he said, no. I'm not going because I'm above this. And this is his problem. He doesn't understand that it's okay because people voted for him. People are paying his salary because of the tax --
GLENN: So you have -- you have -- you say this kind of -- not about Trump. You say this in your own -- in the documentary about your experience. You talk a little bit about how, you know, these guys -- we have to be able to make fun of our leader.
GLENN: But that's totally foreign to you.
BASSEM: Absolutely. Absolutely. And the thing is, in the Middle East, it's totally different. It's not like a rich guy who doesn't understand the concept of being a public servant. It's like a whole region that has lived for so long and attached to our system. It's like he's a father, he's the leader, he's the inspirational guru. It is something that you cannot touch. And it starts from a very young age. You can't talk back against your parents. You can't talk back against your teacher. Against your boss. Against -- all the way up to the president.
And this has been engrained in us. So when I went out and I made fun of it, said, oh, that's not appropriate. It's like, all right. So that's not appropriate. But, like, torturing people, jailing people is appropriate?
It's really weird what people would consider is appropriate. Because I've been hearing you, you know, before I went in, and you were saying like Puerto Rico is suffering, and people are talking about like whether we should kneel or not for the flag. It's crazy. It's crazy.
How people are offended by, like, kneeling for the flag, but they're not offended by what's happening to fellow Americans on this island.
GLENN: Bessem Youssef is joining us. We'll continue our conversation. The movie is Tickling Giants. You really need to see it. It's available everywhere. It's really an amazing documentary on the Arab Spring and what was going on with satire and what it takes to tell a joke in the Middle East.
GLENN: We have Dr. Bassem Youssef on, and we're going to run out of time with him, and I could spend two hours with him. But, first of all, let me just say this, Bassem, we have a Muslim Egyptian on our own staff who is a huge fan. His family lives in Egypt. And they are huge fans. And they -- I'm going to get spanked by everybody in the family if I don't say thank you for them, for what you've done in Egypt.
BASSEM: Oh, my God. That's amazing. Thank you so much.
GLENN: So let me -- let me ask you two quick questions. We have very little time left.
You've seen now this whole revolution. You've watched it. Are you optimistic for Egypt and the Middle East?
BASSEM: On the long run, yes. Because it had to be done. It had to be done. You know, in the age of social media and Snapchat and Instagram and instant likes and shares, I think we got used to things have to happen instantly. So we were fooled by, "Oh, my God. We had the revolution in 18 days. Yay, we got Mubarak down. And then, oh, my God, it's going down the drain."
But if you look at history, history doesn't work this way. Look to America, 100 years in, you had the Civil War. And even your revolution just didn't happen in 1976. And then you had the Constitution. You had the Bill of Rights. There was like fights and malicious wars in the streets. And it took them another 100 years -- so it doesn't work this way. Look to Europe. It's kind of like -- I hate to say this, but I think there's a blood tax that humanity has to pay to learn. And we've seen that in Europe. We've seen that in America. We've seen that in Latin America.
GLENN: I think so too.
BASSEM: And I think we will have to pay. We have to pay to learn. We didn't pay our tax yet, and here's the one optimistic thing that's going out of the revolution. Because I know that you're looking at the Middle East right now, and it looks terrible. But there has been -- if you look closely, questioning was not a popular thing.
GLENN: You have 45 seconds.
BASSEM: Yeah. So popular -- people are very popular -- people now are questioning everything. Questioning things about tradition. Questioning about military.
And this is what came out of the revolution, the questioning. And that's a prequel of revolution.
GLENN: Bassem, I would love to talk to you again. And I wish you all the best of luck. I truly believe you are a -- you are one of the bravest people on television anywhere in the world, as you have active -- real active threats from the power structure, no matter who is in power. And it's an honor to speak to you. Thank you so much.
BASSEM: It's an honor to speak to you, sir. Thank you.
GLENN: You bet.
Name of the video that you must see is Tickling Giants.
STU: And the book, Revolution For Dummies: Laughing Through the Arab Spring.
GLENN: Have you seen the documentary?
STU: I've only seen parts of it.
GLENN: It is -- this guy -- I mean, when they're writing comedy and he's like, so-and-so had their father arrested last night because of the show. Are we doing the right thing? It's remarkable.