An innovative satirical news site in Arabic that skewers Middle Eastern politicians and religions, dodging the wrath of hostile governments and their online supporters, has launched an English edition.
Al-Hudood (The Limits), with deadpan headlines reminiscent of the American publication The Onion, has irritated authorities in the Arab world since its launch in 2013. It offers new audiences a display of innovative humor that ranges from dry (“Local school students memorize independent thinking lesson”) darken (“The intelligence service corrects the beliefs of the man who thought he only feared God”) pitch black“Sirius dies of natural causes”).
“People have become desensitized to all the horrors around us, and we are trying to get them to see things from a new angle,” said Isam Uraiqat, editor-in-chief of the London-based website.
His team of about 15 people, most of whom work from Jordan’s capital Amman, hold an editorial meeting every day of the week to discuss new stories. They decide the message of the article before the jokes, he says. “Once that angle is there, we ask, how can we make this fun? What is the irony?
His job is increasingly difficult, and not only because of the increased attention of the security services. “We used to be able to get away with exaggeration,” says Uraiqat. In the era of Trump, as well as Shirtless Egyptian Military Parades and the United Arab Emirates awards gender equality awards only to men, it is difficult to anticipate reality.
Writing wacky columns for a made-up right-wing Israeli commentator proved especially difficult, says Uraiqat. “There was nothing we could say or express in a way that hadn’t already been said,” he recalls.
Satire is a rich tradition in the Middle East, although Uraiqat says that comedy over the news tends to push a state line or feed its audience. “In terms of the deadpan news satire that was popularized by The Onion, that style really didn’t exist,” he says.
At first, the website was popular with leftists and liberals. But when the articles also began to satirize them, Uraiqat said his audience was broadened to include anyone “who does not notice his ways and is completely closed to what he believes in.”
It is funded mainly by an endowment from the EU and private foundations, but is experimenting with different models of self-reliance. Digital advertising has been hard to come by: Brands have refused to fund initiatives like its annual night of awards for the worst journalism in the Arab world, with awards including the “most blatant bias”, the “most obvious lie” and the ” most flattering writer. “
The logistics of writing satirical news in a region where local information is controlled by the state, censored, or otherwise restricted can be complex. There is no signature, which diffuses responsibility for a particular piece, Uraiqat said. And the sheer novelty of the product – indirect and canny reviews presented as blatant fact – also confused authorities for the first few years.
At some point, the intelligence services caught up; After several incidents that he prefers not to discuss, Uraiqat has stopped traveling to the region and is based exclusively in the UK.
Religious hardliners are not the source of the gravest threats, namely those loyal to the regime, but the team is careful not to trample on the content of people’s beliefs. “It’s divisive,” he said.
Religious practices, on the other hand, such as the propensity of some worshipers to stop their cars in front of other people’s garages to pray, are fair game.
As with The Onion, al-Hudood’s articles are occasionally shared as real news. An article about the Jordanian government banning dry yogurt balls, as part of a broader campaign against illicit white powders, was widely republished. “It was copied by almost all the newspapers,” Uraiqat said. “He went absolutely crazy.”
Another article claiming that the Jordanian police had arrested Santa Claus elicited such a response that it prompted an official denial from the country’s security services.
“There is a certain stupidity that people cannot be protected from,” Uraiqat said. “If it’s satirical enough and media organizations are still buying it, the region needs to examine itself.”
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.