Satire in the Middle East: Unlimited Humor Against Censorship and Bigotry

Syrians die of natural causes “or” An Egyptian travels to work and returns home without being arrested “are the headlines of some of the latest news collected by the satirical publication Al Hudood (which in Arabic means ‘the limits’). After seven years shaking the news of the Middle East with the humor and irony of his texts and cartoons, Al Hudood has had an English version for a few weeks to try to reach a wider audience. Issam Uraiqat is the director and the only visible face of a unique medium in this part of the world where the news is subject to the censorship of each ministry and making information in a humorous way can cost you your life or, in the best of cases , the jail.

Issam, the Jordanian-born son of Palestinian refugees, created Al Hudood in 2013 inspired by the American ‘Onion’ and three years later moved to London. Since 2016 he has not dared to set foot in Amman. He runs a network of fifteen collaborators, who are distributed throughout the region and meet virtually every day to decide on the content. “We don’t work in the best part of the world for this kind of satirical journalism, but we have already been seven years old and we are still alive. People have become desensitized to all the horrors around us, and we are trying to get them to see things from a new angle, “says Issam.

When it comes to making a list of more and less tolerant countries, he prefers to start with the first and highlights Tunisia, Kuwait, “if you don’t talk about the royal house” and Lebanon, “if you don’t mess with Hezbollah.” At the bottom of the list it places Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Syria. “Leaders like Emmanuel Macron talk a lot about freedom of expression, human rights … but then their main allies in the region are some of the least tolerant countries I know”, criticizes Issam.

In Al Hudood the only red line “is faith, we can criticize people linked to religion, but we do not offend a belief because it is too personal a plane.” They have been in the spotlight of fanatics for their religious comments, but it has been the governments of the different countries about which they write and the sectors most loyal to the regimes of the region who have threatened them the most, especially in networks. social.

As if they were real

As with ‘Onion’ in the United States, some of their news has been interpreted as if it were real and Kafkaesque situations have been generated such as when they opened the magazine saying that the Jordanian police had arrested Santa Claus and the security services had to broadcast a statement to deny it.

In this virtual newsroom they closely follow the debate surrounding the cartoons of the Prophet. The last chapter related to this topic was lived in France, where a teacher was beheaded after showing the cartoons of Muhammad in a class. Macron defended the cartoons as an exercise in freedom of expression and an international boycott campaign was unleashed to French products in Muslim countries.

Issam would never use these cartoons. The director of Al Hudood thinks that “they do not make sense because they only seek to offend by the simple fact of saying they can do it.”

In Al Hudood they defend that “satire and humor are not the objective, they are only means to say something” and “We never seek to offend, but we understand that you cannot prevent people from feeling offended.”

Advertisers dare not appear on its pages and the magazine survives thanks to an endowment it receives from the European Union and the support of private foundations. Every year they hold a gala where the worst Arab journalism is awarded, but they have not succeeded in getting any advertiser interested in the initiative, says Issam with a humorous tone. Al Hudood has been fighting censorship with intelligence and humor for seven years. Seven years of resistance in Arabic and now also in English.

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