Saudis used a humorous parody, inspired by a recent diplomatic row between Sweden and Saudi Arabia, to poke fun at undemocratic practices and social injustices in their ultra-conservative country.
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom spoke out against human and women’s rights violations in Saudi Arabia, branding it as a “dictatorship”.
The answer was swift and sure. Riyadh recalled its ambassador to Stockholm “for interference in its internal affairs” and stopped giving business visas to Swedes and renewing current visas of Swedish nationals living in the country. It also blocked Wallstrom from speaking at an Arab League event.
Feminist Wallstrom might have drawn the ire of Riyadh and a posse of Arab and Muslim states which took her criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights practices--flogging a blogger and ill-treatment of women--to mean a criticism of Islam itself.
She, however, found sympathy among Saudis and other Arabs in the virtual world of the Internet, the only space where they are free to discuss taboo subjects like Saudi human rights violations.
On Twitter, a number of Arabic hashtags are used to discuss the diplomatic row, the most striking being a parody hashtag translated from Arabic as #imagesofhumanrightviolationsinSweden.
The ban on women drivers was satirized in the pictures below with the caption “Swedish women waiting to be driven because they are banned from driving”.
A tweet mocked the Islamic concept of mahram—a Saudi enforced idea that a woman travelling must be accompanied either by her husband, brother or son.
A picture of a girls’ school without windows was posted to depict the surrealistic restrictions imposed on women in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi clergy, revered in the birthplace of Wahhabi Islam, were the butt of jokes in tweets that made fun of some of their rulings, often on trivial matters.
The picture shows faces of prominent Saudi clerics with a hashtag translated from Arabic as #beatingwithshoes. The shoe reference is to obscure religious rulings in Saudi Arabia, which among other things dictates the wearing of footwear to indicate sanctity. (Religious debate topics include what footwear will be worn in Paradise and in Hell; why high heels are prohibited for women and what footwear non-Muslims living in Islamic countries should ideally wear to distinguish them from Muslims.)
Other tweets parodied Saudi Arabia’s abysmal human rights record and non-existent freedom of religion.
Several tweets contrasted overcrowded prisons in Saudi Arabia with proverbially comfortable jails in Sweden.
A man posted an Arabic documentary filmed in a Swedish prison, showing its green surrounding, indoor facilities—a gym and a library-- and a general level of comfort, that does not even exist outside prisons in most Arab countries, as implied by the film.
The video was published on YouTube in December 2012 and was viewed more than 48,000 times.
A Twitter user calling himself royal pardon--in an apparent mockery of the pardons regularly issued by the king of Saudi Arabia--posted a YouTube video showing squalid conditions purportedly in Briman prison in the Saudi city of Jeddah.
Tweets lamenting social injustice, poor infrastructure and unemployment in the oil-rich country were abound.
Commenting on a picture of a wide, clean road with a cycle lane and a zebra crossing supposedly in Sweden, a man tweeted:
Sycophantic journalism earned editors of Saudi newspapers mockery.
A Saudi man shared a cartoon depicting a Viking warrior objecting to human rights violations in Saudi Arabia.
The objection did not last long as the Swedish king, concerned about the potential loss of business, phoned the Saudi king and ate some humble pie. It seems to have worked.