|Drawing by Khalid Albaih|
Freedom of speech in the Arab Region can come at a very high price, particularly for cartoonists. Even as far back as 1987 when the Palestinian cartoonist Naji Salim Al-Ali, creator of the iconic cartoon Handala, was shot and killed in London by an unidentified assassin, the dangers of biting socio-political criticism in the region have been clear.And since the so-called Arab Spring of 2011, these risks have only increased.The violent assault of Ali Ferzat, the current head of the Arab Cartoonists’ Association, in 2011 is just one example. Agents of the Syrian regime shattered both his hands in retaliation for his satirical drawings of President Bashar Al-Assad.
The 2013 arrest of the Egyptian cartoonist Magdy El Shafee, author of the acclaimed graphic novel Metro, is another example. He was detained at Egypt’s infamous Tora Prison for trying to stop clashes between anti and pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters.
But in spite of the dangers, cartoonist across the Arab region continue to fight for free speech.
The Sudanese cartoonist Khalid Albaih, creator of the Facebook page Khartoon!, Nadia Khiari, who created Willis from Tunis to try and make sense of the changes in Tunisia following the fall of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s 23-year rule, and Syrian-Palestian cartoonist Hani Abbas – winner of the 2014 Editorial Cartoon International Prize – are just some of those fighting on the frontline with their political insight and humour.