March 7, 2013 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 945

Women And Gender In Saudi Arabia Through The Cartoons Of 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Al-Zahrani

March 7, 2013 | By Elad Giladi
Saudi Arabia | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 945


The topic of gender and women's status in Saudi Arabia is complex and fascinating, and poses a difficult task for researchers. Saudi society, being a traditional, conservative and closed society, does not enable easy access to those seeking to reveal its secrets. In order to research this topic from an unconventional angle, I decided to examine the cartoons of Saudi cartoonist 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Zahrani[1], who publishes his work in the Saudi daily Al-Watan – one of Saudi Arabia's leading and most popular daily newspapers.

To a great extent, Al-Watan is the result of gradual liberalization processes in the Saudi press, which began in the mid-1990s. Since its establishment in 2000, the paper has taken an independent line and an open and liberal position, by Saudi standards. It does not hesitate to deal with charged topics, and provides a platform for widespread popular dialogue on issues relating to women.

Every day, Al-Watan publishes five to six cartoons in various sections: International news, local general affairs, local social affairs, culture, economics, and sports. Al-Zahrani's cartoons portray a middle class Saudi husband and wife, and their lives as a couple and as part of Saudi society. Al-Zahrani calls his cartoon series 'Him and Her,' but it is generally known as 'The Man With Three Hairs And The Woman With The Yellow Dress,' due to the prominent visual features of the husband and wife, whose names are never mentioned.

This study focuses on 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Zahrani and the "Him and Her" cartoon series for three main reasons: First, because cartoons dealing with the relationship between couples also address, directly and indirectly, the issue of women and gender in Saudi Arabia. Second, because Al-Zahrani's cartoons have been published on a daily basis for a long time, and therefore constitute a consistent and ongoing source; and third, because Al-Zahrani's cartoons are immensely popular. Despite 'competing' with five to six other cartoons in the newspaper every day, they receive the highest number of 'hits' and comments.[2] But before dealing with Al-Zahrani's cartoons, let us briefly address the issue of gender in Saudi Arabia in the past and present.

Gender In Saudi Arabia – Between Conservatism And Modernism

Academic research routinely points to the dichotomy between conservatism and modernism in Saudi society, and claims that the status of women stands in the balance of two opposite trends: The need and the desire to preserve the old, traditional social order, versus ambitions to change traditional patterns in women's status and rights (Farsy, 1990; Jerichow, 1997; Ménoret, 2005). The development of women's status reflects changes that occurred in Saudi Arabia during the 1980s and 1990s, as well as during the first decade of the 21st century, especially since King 'Abdallah bin 'Abd Al-Aziz ascended to the throne in August 2005.

The debate regarding the right of women to join the workforce has occupied the Saudi press since the late 1970s, with disagreements apparent even among women columnists. Supporters of the traditional approach supported ongoing restrictions on female employment and the formulation of a special curriculum for women, while supporters of the modern approach called to expand employment opportunities for women and to enhance curricula for girls. Following this public debate, and also due to the desire to minimize dependence on foreign laborers, women began working in banks, services and women's educational institutions in the early 1980s. Boutiques and beauty parlors owned and managed by women were opened in shopping malls in Riyadh and Jeddah. According to estimates, some 12,000 women were employed by the government in education, health, and welfare services during the 1980s (Rabi, 2007, p. 159).

However, the increase in the number of women visible in the public domain caused a tightening of the restrictions on them and a vigorous response by the religious police, which threatened to reverse the changes brought about by the wave of relative openness. In the 1990s, the Gulf War and the liberation of Kuwait brought with them an air of openness that encouraged various sectors in Saudi society to demand freedoms and liberalization. In this context, one can mention the 1990 "driving rebellion", in which 47 women activists demonstrated against the traditional custom that discouraged them from driving. The Saudi government, which perceived the protest as subversive, responded by legislating against women's driving, thus anchoring the inequality in law (Yamani, 2002, p.201; Ménoret, 2005, pp. 74-77).

Rabi (2007) claims that gender structures are used by the Saudi royal family as an effective tool in shaping and formulating Saudi identity. The regime repeatedly "updates" the status of women in society and adapts to the changes triggered by increasing oil revenue. Swift changes and modernization have challenged the social and cultural values upon which Saudi society was based until the appearance of the oil wealth. Among those values was also the issue of women's status and their integration in society. The development of educational institutions can serve as an example of the struggles between modern and traditional values: The first schools for girls were established only in the late 1950s in Jeddah, and were private. Later on, public schools for girls were opened, but this sparked objections and even spurts of violence by religious elements. Since then, the female education system has developed rapidly, and along with it the debate on women's participation in society. In the 1990s, some 55% of all higher education graduates in Saudi Arabia were women, but their share in the workforce did not exceed 5%. This gap highlights the sensitivity and complexity of the problem (p. 160).

The public discourse on women's issues in Saudi Arabia remains largely Islamic in character. Traditional stereotypes – which perceive woman as a devoted wife and mother and as the symbol of the family and its honor, and at the same time perceive her as morally weak, and thus as a potential danger to society – persist, and are reinforced by conservative Islam. As part of this perception, the policy of segregating men and women in Saudi Arabia is strictly enforced in order to minimize situations of "gender mixing," wherein a woman and a man not related to her are together under the same roof. When leaving their homes, Saudi women are expected to wear a cloak ('abaya) that covers their entire body and a niqab – a veil that covers the face, except for the eyes. They may not drive, and cannot move freely in public unless accompanied by a first-degree male relative as a chaperone (mahram). In August 2009, in response to calls by Saudi women's rights activists to cancel the "mahram law," Saudi princess Johara bint Jalawi led a media counter-campaign titled "My guardian knows what is best for me" (Admon, 2009). Saudi women do not hold identity cards and cannot leave the country without written consent from their guardian. Furthermore, they are banned from any position in the public sector that involves interaction with strange men. Women in the workforce are channeled into roles "suitable" for them, and work mostly as teachers in girl's schools, and as nurses or doctors in hospitals for women only (Yamani, 1996, pp. 270-273; Rabi, 2007, pp. 160-161). However, there has been a gradual penetration of women into more "masculine" roles, and nowadays one can find women working as journalists, businesswomen, engineers, and even pilots in Saudi Arabia (Ménoret, 2005, p. 184).

It can be said that issues of women's status are used by the Saudi regime to counter explicit or implicit criticism by conservative circles. Restrictive social legislation, particularly regarding women, conforms with a firm conservative moral consensus in Saudi society, and therefore triggers little resistance and is perceived as a practical expression of the country's Islamic character. It therefore allows the regime to claim that, despite ongoing changes, it remains faithful to cultural foundations and traditional values (Rabi, 2007, pp. 163-164).

Despite the grim picture painted above, the beginning of the 21st century saw the emergence of a surprisingly candid debate about women's status in the Saudi printed and electronic media, with many women contributing to the discussion (Rabi, 2004, p. 56). Today, the Saudi press addresses issues that were considered taboo only a few years ago, including women's driving, female employment, polygamy and more.[3] In addition, many Saudi women are internet users, and apparently use this tool to bypass the public restrictions imposed upon them. The role of the internet as a substantial tool of liberalization is constantly growing, to the chagrin of clerics. The regime, on the other hand, apparently sees this as a positive phenomenon, since it allows citizens to "blow off steam" in private, away from the public arena (Rabi, 2007, p. 165).

In addition, platforms have been established that provide a pulpit for feminist intellectuals and activists, both in the press and academia. These Saudi pioneers promote "Islamic feminism," using Islam as a tool to further women's issues. They avoid directly confronting the regime based on a belief that only participating in the discourse, not fighting it, can catalyze change. Islamic feminism was developed in the 1990s by educated Muslim women who decided to reread the primary sources of Islam. They undertook the task of reinterpreting Koranic verses whose traditional interpretation restricts women, and to emphasize Koranic verses and sayings by the Prophet Muhammad that support gender equality. Turning to religion and its sources allowed these women to sound more authentic and speak the language of Islam, as opposed to modern language imported from the West, and thus to gain widespread support, even beyond the intellectual elite. They "liberated" the religious texts from the monopoly of the clerics, challenged their interpretations, and exposed their attempts to use the religion for their own needs. As part of Islamic feminism, the women could claim that they do not seek to destabilize Saudi society and Westernize it, but rather to preserve Islam as a basis for their lives (Badran, 2002; Ménoret, 2005, pp. 185-188; Rabi, 2007, p. 166).

Further progress was made under the reign of King 'Abdallah bin 'Abd Al-Aziz. Since ascending to the throne in 2005, he has ordered a series of reforms far reaching in Saudi terms, which have changed the face of the kingdom. These reforms include, among others: establishing a body to select the king and crown prince; launching an initiative of interfaith dialogue between Islam, Christianity and Judaism; firing the conservative heads of the Supreme Judicial Council and the religious police; enacting substantial changes in the Senior Clerics Council; appointing a woman as deputy education minister for girls' education; and introducing a series of reforms in the domains of human rights, and especially women's rights, the fight against extremism and terrorism, education, and more (Admon and Carmon, 2009). The king has placed a special focus on education, and specifically women's education. One of his first actions was to hand the ministry of education over to younger, more liberal figures, in order to amend the curricula. It is hard to point to specific changes enacted thus far, but one can mention, for example, the introduction of physical education in public and private schools for girls. Furthermore, sports and health clubs for women have been established, and women are allowed to participate in sporting competitions inside and outside Saudi Arabia. In October 2009, the king launched a project to build a coeducational science and technology university near Jeddah. This is a new phenomenon in the Saudi education system, which had been operating on the basis of full gender segregation thus far. Also worth mentioning is the king's decree from September 2011 that, staring in 2013, women would be appointed to the Shura Council, and would also be allowed to vote and run in the next municipal elections in 2015, in accordance with shari'a law.[4]

However, it should be stressed that these steps and reforms do not indicate a radical process of democratization in Saudi Arabia, nor do they detract from the severity of the restrictions that still exist in Saudi Arabia on human rights, women's rights, and on general and religious freedoms. However, the reformist line led by King 'Abdallah can be seen as a deviation from the more conservative line taken by his predecessors.

Quantitative Visual Analysis Of The Cartoons

The family portrayed in Al-Zahrani's "Him and Her" cartoon series is clearly a fairly average Saudi family, consisting of a husband, wife, son and daughter, and the family cat. The husband works as a government clerk and the wife is a housewife. The father's salary is sufficient for the family's everyday needs, but their financial situation is easily affected by fluctuations in the Saudi market, price increases and stock market slumps. The family owns an apartment, for which they pay a monthly mortgage, and a car. Unlike many Saudi families, they do not employ a foreign chauffeur and therefore the husband drives his wife when necessary. The family employs a foreign laborer as a maid, but the wife is often shown performing chores of cleaning and cooking. They spend vacations in Saudi Arabia and occasionally in one of the Gulf States, to the chagrin of the wife, who dreams of vacationing in Europe (specifically in France).

Al-Zahrani's cartoons do not deal with politics, neither internal nor international. Many address everyday issues that concern the Saudi citizen, such as price increases, stock market crashes, floods in Jeddah, etc., but always in a light-hearted way and from the perspective of the husband and wife. Most of the cartoons deal with marital issues: intimacy, married life, children, work, leisure, vacations and such. In addition, Al-Zahrani touches on gender issues and topics directly related to the concerns of women in Saudi Arabia.

Figure 1
"Behind every happy man there is a woman"
Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 2, 2007

To examine how women were portrayed in these cartoons, we shall examine two aspects: The first is dominance: are women presented as submissive to men, equal to them, or dominant over them in terms of action, position in space, and speech. The second aspect is role, and is assessed via two categories – traditional and non-traditional.


The aspect of female dominance in he cartoons was assessed via a quantitative and qualitative analysis aimed at counting the number of cartoons in which women appear equal to men, the number of cartoons in which they appear submissive, smaller, weaker, or of lesser status than men; and the number of cartoons in which women are portrayed are being above the man or as stronger than him. The parameters examined are: action, positioning in space (is the woman in the foreground or background? Is she clearly physically larger than the man?), and the text of the cartoon.

The basic assumption was that, since women in Saudi society are of significantly lesser status than men, they would also be much less dominant in the cartoons. However, the findings paint a totally different picture: Out of 568 cartoons examined, 61 showed women as subordinate to the man or weaker than him, 97 showed women as being above the man or stronger than him, and the rest showed women as equal to the man, or else showed women alone or men alone, or showed no human figures at all.

Should the fact that more cartoons show the woman as dominant surprise us? The answer is "yes and no." Out of context and considering the state of women in Saudi Arabia, we might definitely be surprised by this finding. However, since the setting for most of the cartoons is the couple's home – the undisputed realm of the Saudi woman – the findings become easily explicable. The Saudi woman, as she is portrayed in Al-Zahrani's cartoons, cannot control her husband's actions when he is at work or with his friends, but in the home she can "tyrannize" him as she pleases. This can also be seen as a compensation for her lack of power outside the house, in the public domain. Another element that can explain female dominance in these cartoons is that Al-Zahrani often portrays the woman as domineering, scheming, thieving, greedy and jealous. In these cases, dominance is a reflection of those negative traits, which are also expressed by aggressive and violent behavior [see Figures 1 and 2]. So, in fact, when the woman is portrayed as dominant, it is perceived as negative. Another explanation for female dominance is the lack of male dominance. The man is easily charmed by the woman, he is not sufficiently aggressive, he does not train his wife properly, or in other words – he is "not man enough." It should be mentioned that, in most cases where the woman is portrayed as having a job, she is also shown to be (physically) larger and stronger than the man [see Figure 3].

Figure 2
"A woman gets the best out of a man"
Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), August 22, 2007

Figure 3
Above: "The housewife"; below: "The woman employed as a clerk"
Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), April 11, 2009

As for cartoons that show the woman as less dominant than the man, subordinate to him or weaker than him, we see that the reason for it apparently lies in her "feminine" traits: her physical inferiority, stupidity and emotional nature [see Figure 4]. Another explanation is that the woman's inferiority stems from social norms, tradition, and the laws of the state, which automatically place the man in a position of power.

Figure 4
"Intellect and emotion in man and in woman"[5]
Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia) August 8, 2008


The role of the woman in the cartoons is assessed according to two categories: a traditional role – rearing children, cleaning, cooking, doing laundry, etc.; or a non-traditional role – women outside the home or performing a man's task (driving, working).

The findings indicate that only 23 cartoons show women in non-traditional roles, meaning outside the home or performing a man's job (non-Saudi women, such as foreign laborers working as maids or hospital nurses – were not included in this count). All 23 of these cartoons show women outside the home, and eight show them wearing garments that do not conform to the Saudi dress code. Only two cartoons show women wearing a niqab (veil that covers all or most of the face), but in both of them the women are outside the home without a male chaperone (an interesting example can be seen in Figure 5). In most of the cartoons that show women outside the home, they are accompanied by a man, while only five of these cartoons show them unaccompanied by a man, and in three they are even driving a car.

Figure 5
Above: Saudi women before boarding a flight abroad;
below: Saudi women on a flight abroad
Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), August 2, 2007

Dealing With The Core Issues Of Gender And Women's Status

The core issues of gender and women's status that preoccupy Saudi society are polygamy and misyar marriages (see explanation below), mahram issues, segregation, and dress codes, female employment and women's rights. Al-Zahrani addresses these issues in 69 of the 568 cartoons examined (for a numerical breakdown, see Table 1), and the results are eye opening.

Polygamy And Misyar Marriages

According to Islamic law, a Muslim man can marry up to four women if he can provide all their needs. Judging by the way this matter is handled in the cartoons, it is an especially troubling issue to Saudi women. Misyar marriages are temporary marriages for pleasure purposes that are permissible in Sunni Islam. They became popular in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states starting in the mid 1990's, and today are quite common. In these marriages, the woman is afforded some of the rights granted to the wife in Islam, such as the right to housing, to be supported by her husband, and, if he is married to other women, to spend equal time with him. In most cases these marriages take place unbeknownst to the man's other wives, even though the contract is signed before witnesses, the consent of the woman's guardian is usually obtained, and the marriage is documented by the courts. Many women, especially in the Gulf, and feminists throughout the Middle East object to temporary marriages, regarding them as a violation of the woman's rights and as a mechanism that essentially allows the husband to legally have an affair.

How is this topic handled in the 21 cartoons that deal with it directly? First and foremost, we see that, according to the cartoons, the fear of the husband marrying another woman or secretly engaging in a misyar marriage is ever present in Saudi women (see Figure 6). The uncertainty and helplessness in the face of the phenomenon, and the fact that it is completely legal, heighten the woman's fear to the level of an obsession, and can even drive her mad. It is enough for the man to come home smiling to make her suspicious, and hearing that someone else's husband married another woman can cause her to call her own husband a 'cheater.' The woman's fears in Al-Zahrani's cartoons are often unjustified, but several cartoons show her catching him in the act of posting personal ads on the internet or on satellite channels in search of a misyar marriage or an ordinary one.

Figure 6
"Why is the woman always worried?"
(The figure next to the husband is labelled "the second wife")
Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), February 7, 2009

Zahrani's portrayal of women is clearly from a male perspective and conforms to masculine sexual stereotypes. For the husband in the cartoons, having multiple wives is completely natural and logical: in a woman's heart there is room for only one man, whereas a man's heart has room for many women, certainly for four. Some repeating cartoons show the wife as having one heart while the husband has four; others show that there is one man in a woman's heart whereas the man's heart contains several women, with room enough for all. The message is that having multiple wives is not only a social norm, but is also in a man's nature. One cartoon even shows the husband telling his wife that he is looking for a misyar bride (see Figure 7), and in another, the husband tells the readers that misyar marriages have become a real necessity. The final proof that polygamy is presented as natural and desirable comes from a number of cartoons in which the family physician advises the husband to take a second wife for the sake of his physical and mental wellbeing. Some of the cartoons even imply that the husband has already married a second wife, unbeknownst to the first.

Figure 7
"A good wife respects her husband's wishes"
Husband: "My dear wife, I am looking for a misyar bride."
Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), February 29, 2008

Mahram, Segregation And Dress Codes

These three issues are closely associated with everyday life in Saudi Arabia and are addressed often, both inside and outside this country. During the two years examined, Al-Zahrani devoted 13 cartoons to various aspects of these topics. As mentioned, only 23 of the total number of cartoons examined show women outside the home. In most of these, the women are accompanied by a man and wear the traditional 'abaya, but only two of them show the woman wearing a niqab. It is apparently no coincidence that in both of these cartoons the women are without a male chaperone.

One of these cartoons, in Figure 5, addresses several issues that concern us. Three women are seen waiting to board a plane out of Saudi Arabia. While they are in a Saudi airport, they conform to the dress code in full, wearing an 'abaya and a niqab. One of them even wears gloves and the strictest kind of niqab, which covers the eyes with a dark mesh. However, once they board the plane and leave the kingdom, they supposedly abandon all constraint and don permissive clothing, even by Western standards (a tight shirt and miniskirt). It is clear that these women are flying without a male chaperone, and herein lays the 'problem.' The message apparently conveyed by the cartoon is that, without the accompaniment of a mahram, women allow themselves to let loose and abandon Saudi practices, traditions and laws.

Contrary to Al-Zahrani's conservative stand on the mahram and 'abaya, his treatment of gender segregation and the ban on gender mixing is more satirical and open. He seems to criticize the fact that the boundaries of commingling are vague, especially nowadays when communication can be easily accomplished with the internet and mobile phones. For example, in one cartoon the daughter asks her mother if playing with the neighbors' son constitutes unacceptable gender mixing, implying that the teaching and enforcement of this issue are somewhat over-strict.

Women Driving

The issue of women driving has become one of the symbols of Saudi women's fight for equality. Since the "driving rebellion" of the late 1990s in Riyadh and until today, this issue has been the topic of many articles and reports in the Saudi press and on TV shows, and it is always on the agenda of women's rights activists and organizations. The public debate on it refuses to die down and repeatedly reemerges (see, for example: Admon, 2007; Admon, 2012).

Zahrani's position, similar to his conservative line on other core issues mentioned thus far, is a firm objection to women driving. The cartoons dealing with this topic convey the message that enabling women to drive would be irresponsible, as it would put them and their children at risk. For example, one cartoon shows the husband watching his wife wildly driving an ATV, and wondering what would happen if she was allowed to drive a car. Another reason to ban women from driving, according to Al-Zahrani, is that are physically incapable of making repairs, such as replacing a flat tire. Finally, Al-Zahrani also implies that the issue of driving is not really a priority for women, as evident from a cartoon that shown the woman dreaming of her husband while the debate on women driving rages around her (see Figure 8).

Picture 8
"The woman's position on women driving"
Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), November 24, 2007

Female Employment

Zahrani takes a fairly conservative position on the topic of female employment as well. The 14 cartoons addressing this topic express an objection to female employment. A working woman, according to Al-Zahrani, is undoubtedly one with masculine traits. She is unattractive, unpleasant and generally 'unfeminine.' She does not possess the qualities that a man likes, and actually embodies the traits that men dislike. Therefore, such a woman has difficulty finding a match, and if she is married, she has difficulty keeping her husband. The equation Al-Zahrani makes is simple: working woman = strong woman = a danger to men and to herself (see Figure 3).

In addition, all university graduates and holders of diplomas are not truly happy according to Al-Zahrani. Even doctors, dentists and lawyers cannot find work in their field, and those who do are unhappy at it. The bottom line is that no one is happier than a housewife (see Figure 9). In addition, a woman who works like a man makes less than a man in the same profession, so why should she even bother? The truth, according to Al-Zahrani, is that women do not really want to work, nor do they need to, so they are better off staying at home. In this context, one interesting cartoon showed the wife demanding that her husband allow her to work because she has grown tired of her life at home. But a short time later she gets fed up with her job and declares that she would rather return home "to routine and pleasure."

Picture 9
The women labled "Doctor," Lawyer" and "Teacher" are miserable; only the "Spouse" is happy
Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), March 9, 2008

Women's Rights In General

The issue of women's rights encompasses each of the core issues mentioned above, as well as other rights and the demand for equality and opportunities in employment, education, and other domains. Here too Al-Zahrani continues his conservative line and even manages to outdo himself. The 14 cartoons that deal with this topic convey the following messages: Women want their rights and demand them loudly, but they do not understand that with rights come serious obligations that they are unable to handle. In this context, see the cartoon in Figure 10. The top frame shows the woman yelling for her rights; in the bottom frame she receives a heavy weight representing her rights, which threatens to crush her, but she still pretends to be happy.

Picture 10
Top: "My riiiiights, give me my rights"; Bottom: "Ahhh, I finally got my rights"
Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), August 7, 2007

Zahrani also implies that women demand rights without really knowing what they are. In his opinion, the simple woman doesn't really understand what rights the activists are demanding for her, and the entire matter has long since become empty slogans, lofty words, and meaningless fiery speeches.

Yet another message Zahrani conveys – perhaps the most important one – is the woman is not as helpless as she seems, or as some try to claim. According to him, we must not forget that, though the woman might be smaller and physically weaker than the man, in her own domain – the home and family – she reigns supreme. The cartoon in Figure 11 sums this point. Titled "The weak creature called woman," it shows a tiny women leading a giant man by the collar, as if to say: woman is considered small and weak, but she is actually the one in control.

In conclusion, do Al-Zahrani's positions on women and gender in Saudi Arabia teach us that Saudi society is inclined towards traditionalism and conservatism more than towards modernism? Assuming that Al-Zahrani accurately reflects Saudi public opinion and the voice of the common man, and considering the fact that the paper in which he publishes is regarded as relatively liberal and open, we are led to conclude that Saudi society still has a ways to go before women receive proper esteem, equal rights, and equal opportunities. But judging from past experience, reforms in Saudi Arabia do take place, even if very slowly.

Picture 11
"The weak creature called woman"
Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), July 5, 2008


* Elad Giladi is a research fellow at MEMRI.



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[1] A version of this article, in Hebrew, was originally published in the journal Migdar:

Giladi, E. (2012), "The Weak Creature Called Woman...': Women and Gender in Saudi Arabia as Reflected in the Cartoons of 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Zahrani," Migdar – A Multidisciplinary Academic Journal for Feminism and Gender Issues [electronic version] No. 1. For the article, go here.

[2] A good example is provided by a cartoon published by Al-Zahrani on December 11, 2009. This cartoon, which dealt humorously with the topic of polygamy – one of the core women's issues in Saudi Arabia – evoked 64 comments, including emotionally charged comments for and against the issue. Other cartoons published in the paper that day received far fewer comments. This scenario repeats itself on a near daily basis.

[3] See, for example, Admon, 2007, and MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1570, Saudi Women Columnists Protest Against Oppression of Women in Saudi Arabia, May 4, 2007.

[4] The Shura Council is Saudi Arabia's parliament, whose members are not elected but rather appointed by the king. In the municipal elections, half of the local council members are elected and the rest are appointed. For more on this decision by King 'Abdallah, and the opposition it evoked inside and outside the kingdom, see Admon 2012.

[5] This cartoon has appeared in the paper four times, with slight variations.

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