STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Now, the two Egyptian presidential candidates made this past weekend's runoff by surviving a first round of voting. And when the first- round results were known, an online news site featured the following headline: Election Results Disrupt Bodily Functions Among Millions of Egyptians. That news site is El Koshary Today. It may be Egypt's closest counterpart to The Onion, the satirical American news source.
During our Revolutionary Road Trip through North Africa, we asked to meet the founders of El Koshary Today, and two of them invited us to their table at a central Cairo bar.
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INSKEEP: The bar is called Hurriya, which means freedom. It is the plainest of places - concrete floor, wooden chairs. The bartender doesn't ask if you want a beer. He just delivers green bottles of an Egyptian brand, Stella. One of the El Koshary founders is Hazem Zahny, who's 27 years old, and writes the satirical paper part time.
HAZEM ZAHNY: I'm sort of a full-time bad back sufferer, part-time science journalist. I'm also finishing up my master's.
INSKEEP: What happened to your back?
ZAHNY: A good old disc problem.
INSKEEP: Is this Stella beer kind of an anesthetic for that?
ZAHNY: Stella beer is more of an anesthetic for life more generally, I think.
INSKEEP: He says he mocks the news because he finds it depressing. A recent El Koshary headline quoted the government, saying: Complaining To Strangers May Lead To Annihilation. Sounds absurd, but the government actually said almost that - running ads warning Egyptians not to talk with foreigners. Hazem's co-writer and childhood friend, Taha Belal, who's an artist, has been thinking of ads of his own as religious conservatives press for more power in Egyptian society.
TAHA BELAL: I wanted to make an ad - we have this little section for ads - so I wanted to make a Head and Shoulders ad for beards, for example.
INSKEEP: Maybe the dandruff shampoo can help people who show their faith by growing long beards.
BELAL: It's going to be, you know, more marketable.
INSKEEP: Religious conservatives has recently affected this bar, prompting the owners to nail boards over the windows so that devout passers-by won't have to see the beer. It's a good thing, because eight empty bottles somehow accumulated on our table.
ZAHNY: Have some chips. You guys want - these are lemon-chili.
INSKEEP: Lemon-chili chips. I'd better try one.
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INSKEEP: It's fitting that we talked over some food, since El Koshary Today is named after a common Egyptian dish - basically, a bowl of spaghetti with a lot of things added.
ZAHNY: Koshary is sort of a very reflective meal of the country, in the sense that it's already quite a - chaotic kind of meal.
INSKEEP: A mix of lentils, pasta, rice, chick peas and more. El Koshary Today does not publish daily; only when inspiration strikes. The 2011 revolution gave plenty of inspiration, as did this year's elections - which led to that headline about disrupting Egyptian bodily functions.
OK, whose headline was that?
Hazem raises his hand.
ZAHNY: Yeah. I mean, I think this - to a large extent, was not so much satirical as a real kind of news report, to an extent. I mean, the level of shock was really, quite overwhelming.
INSKEEP: Centrist candidates were eliminated in favor of the two polarizing choices that Egyptians faced this past weekend. Hazem recalls a journalist who recently wrote: The political situation in Egypt has rendered parody news obsolete.
ZAHNY: This is so true, to an extent. I mean, it is getting really hard to come up with parody news because news has become parody.
INSKEEP: The Associated Press correspondent doing this straightforward story has the parody far quicker than...
ZAHNY: Absolutely. I'll give you an example. Yesterday, this big news item said this new party, called Democratic Jihad, supports Shafik, right? Shafik, who wants to destroy...
INSKEEP: Supports the military guy...
ZAHNY: Yeah. And if you read that, you think on the one level, it's just hilarious - the term democratic jihad, and all the connotations associated with that. And then you add another level - that they support the anti-Islamist candidate - and you think, what the hell is going on here? It's brilliant.
INSKEEP: Though they find such news items dismaying, Hazem and Taha say there's an upside. The amount of Egyptian parody has exploded, appearing so swiftly on the Internet after every news event that El Koshary Today now struggles to write something good enough to compete.
You'll find all of our reporting from the road through Tunisia, Libya and Egypt at NPR.org. It's NPR News.
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