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Poking fun, US-style, in Egypt

Fake news in the style of The Onion and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart risks upsetting the Cairo hierarchy.

And just as, according to a recent Pew Research poll, more American young people get their news from the fake news staple The Daily Show with Jon Stewart than actual news programs, EKT’s writers hope that satirizing news will make it more easy to digest.

“We wanted to write something that had some message yet was equally entertaining. So the idea of using satire and fake news was born out of that thought,” Makrona said.

However, in Egypt, speaking out against the state of affairs can have its consequences.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) lists Egypt in the top-10 worst countries to be a blogger, and says that many Egyptian online journalists are regularly harassed and arrested. As of last December, there are three well-known cases of bloggers sitting in Egyptian prisons for writing about social issues affecting minorities in the country, insulting Islam and insulting Mubarak.

“We do try to keep things anonymous because we want to stay under the authorities’ radar,” Makarona said. “We were a little worried that we’d be crossing some boundary with the government at first, but so far there have been no issues or threats.”

Chairperson of the American University in Cairo’s journalism and mass communications department, Naila Hamdy, said that while expression is certainly limited in Egypt, the line was becoming broader. Society — and the authorities — had become more tolerant in the past 10 years due to the advent of satellite television channels in the Arab world that forced previously sensitive topics, such as Muslim-Christian relations in Egypt, out into the open.

“My sense is that you are more likely to get in trouble if you are associated with street demonstrations,” Hamdy said in a phone interview. “If you an activist and you have a record of demonstrating, or if you are a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and you are blogging that would put you in a more likely to be harassed category then if you were just sitting at home blogging about these issues.”

Hamdy also noted that the sort of snarky humor used on EKT, more commonly used by Western satirical media, is out of touch with the majority of the Egyptian population — not the least because it is written in English.

EKT’s writers also acknowledge that while their site’s popularity has continued to grow, reaching between 1,500 and 2,000 unique visitors a day, their readers come from a very particular segment of upper-class Egyptian society.

“We are worried about alienating people, or rather making them feel like we are using our English language and privileged background to poke fun at problems that somehow ‘we are above,’” Makarona said.

He added: “We don’t want to sound elitist, whilst belittling others. That’s not our intention.”

Nevertheless, there is one thing that EKT readers agrees on:

“You guys are awesome!” reads a post on EKT’s Facebook fan page. “Actually awesome is an understatement!”