Voice of Egypt rings out in UAE

There's a taste of post-revolution Egypt in the air at Al Qahira 1940 restaurant in Dubai Marina. As Egyptians gathered in Tahrir Square yesterday to mark the second anniversary of the uprising that toppled the Hosni Mubarak, their compatriots in the UAE met to watch a popular TV satirist's spin on events, writes Wafa Issa

DUBAI // For those searching for an insight into post-revolution Egypt, Dubai Marina may seem an unlikely place to start.

But at the restaurant Al Qahira 1940 (Cairo 1940) - a "piece of Egypt in Dubai" - scores of Egyptians gather every Friday night to watch a television programme parodying political life in their post-revolution homeland.

The restaurant, also known as Le Caire (French for Cairo), is located by the water, reminding many of its visitors of the Nile, and has signs bearing the names of well-known streets in the Egyptian capital.

"We wanted to set up a business which is profitable but also represents Egypt, its cuisine, its history and serves as a place for the Egyptian community in Dubai," said Ali Ibrahim, 34, an IT specialist who launched the restaurant as a side business with five other UAE-based Egyptians.

The venue's theme is inspired by the time of Egypt's last monarchy, ended by the Free Officers' revolution in 1952, and its seating area is decorated with a white crescent and three white stars - the symbols used in the country's flag of that period.

On most evenings classic Arabic music and the voices of renowned Egyptian singers, such as Umm Kalthoum and Abed Al Halim, fill the air, but on recent Fridays the music has given way to another voice - that of Bassem Youssef, the host of Al Barnameg (The Programme), a satirical programme about post-revolution Egypt.

Last night, as Egyptians gathered at the venue for the show, their compatriots in Cairo gathered in Tahrir Square to mark the second anniversary of the January 25 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak. Viewers could only wonder what Youssef - seen by many as Egypt's answer to Jon Stewart - would have to say about events.

Youssef, a 38-year-old heart surgeon, took advantage of Egypt's changing political and media scene by parodying public figures on YouTube before his act was picked up by satellite networks.

Despite the controversy he has stirred - an Islamist lawyer filed charges against him for insulting Egypt's president, Mohammed Morsi - his popularity has soared. He has more than one million Facebook fans and his Friday show is watched by millions more.

The programme starts at 1am in the UAE but despite the late hour it draws scores of Egyptians to the restaurant every week.

"We started to broadcast the show upon our customers' request and not a personal decision on our behalf," Mr Ibrahim said. "But there is no doubt that Dr Bassem has managed to present the political scene in Egypt in a new way.

"Everyone laughs at his jokes regardless of whether they agree with his views or not and broadcasting his show in the restaurant brings a lively mood to the place."

The regular audience in Dubai includes an Egyptian couple, Tarek Al Arabi and Miral El Ramlawy, who where among those who took to Cairo's streets during the January uprising of 2011 before moving to Dubai about nine months ago.

"I feel closer to home when I come here," Mrs El Ramlawy said. "The fact you can watch the show with a gathering is really nice - Egyptians like to do things jointly and in public this is how we are.

"Bassem has made a unique thing, something that is being done for the first time in Egypt and even the Arab world. He is successful because he talks in the people's tongue. It is appealing for us because sarcasm is a part of Egyptian nature. We are a people who laugh at ourselves and our problems."

Many Egyptians said the show kept them informed about developments in their country in an entertaining way.

"When you watch his show you feel that you get a weekly summary of the socio-political developments occurring in Egypt," Mr Al Arabi said. "Shows such as Bassem's help keep you updated.

"We have much hope in the revolution and do not think anyone will be able to destroy it as long as our people are alert and shows such as Bassem's help in keeping people tuned in."