Egyptians love to have a good laugh. Since the fall of Hosni Mubarak they've relished the fact that they can now voice their humor publicly. As it turns out, though, they might not be able to do so with impunity.
Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak was the subject of many an unkind word before his fall. Though the jokes were usually told in trusted circles only, they were known to many, and fear of reprisal engendered inventiveness. To avoid mentioning Mubarak by name, the president was called "la vache qui rit" ("the laughing cow"), a reference to a type of French cheese.
The fear only disappeared with the advent of the revolution. Today, political satire can be found in the media, on the Internet, on social networks or even on protestors' signs at demonstrations.
Morsi and satire
Egyptians are known for their humor, wit, and their ironic self-deprecation. Even at Tahrir Square, in the midst of the revolution, there were signs that read: "Mubarak, out! My wife's having a baby, but it refuses to be born as long as you're president!"
Nor is the new president being spared. Mohamed Morsi is a beloved subject for caricature and satire. The broadest target is Morsi's religiously-tinged policies and the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood on his political and economic decisions.
After Morsi's first speech before the presidential vote - a speech in which he clarified his political platform - jokes about his speech rippled through the media.
On Facebook, someone posted the joke: "After 100 days in office the president holds a speech before his people. In it, Morsi speaks of the poor economic conditions of his land and promises, 'By God, since I began governing not one cent has gone into my own pocket.' The people answer. 'Mr. President, it's the same for us!' "
Some satirists render Morsi as something of a new "pharaoh" due to his attempts to consolidate the judiciary and legislative powers under his own executive control. The pharaoh reference is unflattering, particularly since Mubarak was popularly called a pharaoh as well.
Another common joke on the street is this: "A guy asks his friend, 'Have you seen that the pharaoh is risen again?' 'You don't say,' the friend replies. 'You mean the one that the Salafists are pulling around by the nose?' "
Religious influence in everyday life
The fear that religion could play a dominant role in the day-to-day lives of Egyptians is also greeted with humor. Many religion-themed jokes have been circulating on Facebook: "Job listing for a public television channel: Presenter - no older than 20 - with at least 21 years' experience wearing head scarves."
Another entry reads: "On the highway from Alexandria to Cairo a man is stopped by the traffic police for driving over the speed limit. He shows his license and registration and asks the officer how much the fine will be. The police officer laughs: 'Brother, those kinds of fines belong to the past. That's from Mubarak's time.' The driver then asks, 'And how is it with Morsi?' 'Oh, it's enough of you cite a Surah (a chapter of the Koran). God will forgive your act,' the policeman answers.' "
The political influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and its holy guide, the "Murshid," is well known to Egyptians. Reactions to the perception that Morsi is a puppet of the Murshid can be seen on satire sites all over the Internet. One cartoon shows Morsi giving a speech to the people while holding a scrap of paper in his hand, murmuring, "Before I speak any gibberish and annoy the Murshid, I prefer to learn the text by heart."
Others mock the results of the revolution against Mubarak's rule in Egypt. One particular joke has spread across Facebook: "Dear revolutionaries, we now know the true reason for our revolution against Mubarak. He didn't pray publicly and didn't rule according to the Sharia."
The consequences of humor
For his supporters, Morsi is a religious leader as well as a political one, and his critics are insulted as blasphemers. Caricaturists, satirists, journalists, and actors have even been brought to trial.
Newspapers recently reported that the attorney general had ordered an investigation into an accusation made against well-known TV presenter Basem Yusuf. The charge is that, on his show on a private television channel, Yusuf accused Morsi of aspiring to dictatorship. A lawyer belonging to an Islamist party interpreted the moderator's joke as an insult to the president and filed suit.
The comedian and actor Adel Imam was also charged with blasphemy for some of the films and stage shows in which he criticized Islamic radicalism.
Many still believe in their newly-won freedom, and hope that the Arab spring will bring a political shift. But many also fear that Mubarak's dictatorship might be replaced by a religious one.
Yet one thing Egyptians will preserve is their sense of humor.