Is this Saudi cartoonist taking big risks with his satires?
For all those who still believe that it will be difficult for a country like Saudi Arabia to open up and modernize, take a look at this.
What was once unacceptable and punishable is now tolerable, it seems.
Abdulaziz Al-Muzaini, founder of Myrkott Studio, is creating Masameer, satirical cartoon series, which makes fun of the conservative kingdom over issues such as women’s rights, religious tensions and corruption.
“We try to create characters from all aspects, all different backgrounds, cultures, religions. Characters that you meet every day,” he was quoted by CNN Money as saying.
“When you watch it as a Saudi or from the Gulf, there is a certain depth of reality… that makes people love it,” he said.
Such practice were once punishable in the conservative kingdom but it looks like Al-Muzaini’s courage to create such series emanate from King Salman’s drafted Vision 2030 aimed at creating new sources of revenues to diversify Saudi’s economy by opening up and modernizing its society.
Al-Muzaini believes changing the way young people think is vital if the country is going to move forward, according to CNN Money.
Al-Muzaini is the latest cartoonist to venture into such a courageous and challenging endeavor but many cartoonists in the region before him tried to paint the reality of Arab societies.
Who are they and what was their fate?
Saudi Cartoonist Abdullah Jaber draws for the newspaper Mecca and has faced censorship in the past with the Saudi government showing displeasure with his work and later banning him from publishing his ideas.
The ban was lifted a year later.
Jaber was quoted by Al Arabiya as saying that “caricaturists in the Arab world have to express their opinion while at the same time agreeing with the government’s opinion, otherwise, they would not be allowed to be published at all.”
The task is not easy at all for Arab Cartoonists.
According to the Atlantic, an international news platform, many Arab cartoonists faced a tougher fate.
They said that Veteran Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat now lives in exile in Kuwait, but that his colleague, Akram Raslan, died under suspicious circumstances.
The news outlet opined that last September, the Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar was assassinated by a lone gunman on the steps of an Amman courthouse after he published an allegedly blasphemous cartoon on Facebook.
But why are cartoonist punished this way? Isn’t it their role to expose reality in a way to affect public opinion and provoke change?
Role of Cartoonists
Cartoonists were integral to vivid illustrations in Cairo and other Arab capitals’ press from the 1920s through the 1950s.
But with changing times and media becoming more aware of the impact that cartoonists play, arab capitals were keen to sanction those cartoons that did not embellish realities.
Cartoonists were then forced to employ tricks of the trade—metaphors, sarcasm, slang, and double entendre—to break the rules in ways that investigative reporters simply can’t.
A study by Jacob Udayi Agba, a Nigerian university professor, about the role of cartoons reveals that “political cartoon bridges over which political information is transported into the minds of readers.”
He says that political cartoons are intended to communicate meaning and achieve a goal. “As vehicles of political information dissemination, cartoon has been used to penetrate every facet of the society.” he adds.
Another study published by Christ University in Bangalore reveals that political cartoons are satirical and make an observation about a situation.
“It touches upon issues that may not be suited for commentary by the editor. A cartoon is endorsed by a newspaper and is definitely a questioning and decisive piece that at times may even be biased. A good cartoon can say what the editorial may try to avoid,” it said.