The King and the Fool: Bassem Youssef

by Hamdy El-Gazzar  and translated by Nour Abdelghani  /  June 3, 2013  / No comments

The Free Fool does not back down. He has the power of the hearts of millions.

The Laughing Jester

Detail of 15th century painting, 'The Laughing Jester.' Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Historically, the Court Jester had a special place at the foot of the King, Caliph, or Sultan, and his tales and anecdotes were recorded throughout Arabic history. From these texts, we learn that the Court Jester (who I will also refer to as the fool and clown) was the Sultan’s main source of entertainment and joy. He was in charge of the Sultan’s smile and royal laughter.

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  2. “From Egypt” attempts to draw a cultural map of Egypt and the Arab world by profiling the artistic, literary, and political issues that affect the region via on-the-ground coverage of current events, publications, and the fight for freedom of expression.
  3. Hamdy el Gazzar
  4. Hamdy El-Gazzar is an Egyptian writer and one of the 39 young Arab writers included in the Beirut 39 Project. His first novel, Sihr Aswad (Dar Merit, 2005) won the prestigious Sawaris Award, and was subsequently translated by Humphrey Davies (Black Magic, AUC Press, 2007). His second novel, Ladhdhat Sirriyya (Secret Pleasures) was published by Dar al-Dar in 2008. He is currently working on a third novel.

The special place that the Jester had in the Sultan’s court, and his heart, was as important as those held by the ministers, army generals, poets, musicians, and house masters. The Fool was simply “the Sultan’s pleasure.”

In front of the Sultan, the Fool would dance and jump, do impressions, and sing. He would make up jokes and gestures and silly anecdotes to entertain the Sultan and make him laugh. At the same time, the Fool lived in constant sorrow, as he was owned and enslaved by the Sultan.

Today the Royal Fool no longer has a place in our society. He has been replaced by a more progressive clown—one that is more open and popular. Today’s clown has stronger abilities and tools. He has changed his role completely and become a Free Fool.

Having freed himself from the Sultan’s chains, the Clown has emerged, laughing with his own audience, instead of with the Sultan. Now he appears on TV screens, entertaining millions, and has become very famous. His name has even crossed the Atlantic and reached the land of Americans.

The Fool no longer earns his living from the royal castle, and is no longer a source of joy and laughter for the Sultan. He is no longer the Sultan’s peace and happiness. On the contrary, the Fool has become a source of agony and frustration.

In the past the Fool would mock the public to entertain the Sultan. Today he is the star of his “One Man Show” and entertains the public at the Sultan’s expense.

But that’s not all: The Free Fool also meets with religious leaders and members of the clergy, and from some of them he gathers prime material for his skits.

Still it must be said: The Free Fool is not more powerful than those he attacks. He is powerless in front of them. Nevertheless, he appears strong and steadfast, drawing his strength from the millions that depend on him for their entertainment and laughter.

The Free Fool is convicted of religious blasphemy but neither cowers nor backs away. Instead, he goes to them wearing a large sultan’s headdress, larger than one worn by any Sultan in history.

The Fool has become a sultan, but not because he wears the headdress.

The Fool has become a sultan because he has the power of the hearts of millions.

About the Author

Hamdy El-Gazzar is an Egyptian writer and one of the 39 young Arab writers included in the Beirut 39 Project. His first novel, Sihr Aswad (Dar Merit, 2005) won the prestigious Sawaris Award, and was subsequently translated by Humphrey Davies (Black Magic, AUC Press, 2007). His second novel, Ladhdhat Sirriyya (Secret Pleasures) was published by Dar al-Dar in 2008. He is currently working on a third novel.

View all articles by Hamdy El-Gazzar

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