Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Seven-star satire? Only in Dubai

By Daisy Carrington, for CNN
November 18, 2013 -- Updated 1004 GMT (1804 HKT)
The Pan-Arabia Enquirer is a satirical news source that pokes fun at the Middle East and its leaders. In one classic story, it joked the ladies of US TV show The View 'praised him for his grasp of current affairs' though he 'was laughed at for still thinking Jennifer Aniston was single.' The Pan-Arabia Enquirer is a satirical news source that pokes fun at the Middle East and its leaders. In one classic story, it joked the ladies of US TV show The View 'praised him for his grasp of current affairs' though he 'was laughed at for still thinking Jennifer Aniston was single.'
HIDE CAPTION
The Pan-Arabia Enquirer
The Pan-Arabia Enquirer
The Pan-Arabia Enquirer
The Pan-Arabia Enquirer
<<
<
1
2
3
4
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Pan-Arabian Enquirer is the Middle East's answer to The Onion
  • The satirical newspaper is often confused for fact
  • The region can be tough on satirists
  • Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef was taken off the air earlier this month

(CNN) -- Sometimes, residents of the Middle East have a hard time taking a joke. This, at least, is how the editor of the satirical blog the Pan-Arabia Enquirer sees it. The website, based in Dubai and self-dubbed "the world's only 7-star satirical news source," gets roughly 400,000 page views per month and is often likened to The Onion. According to its editor, some of the most popular stories are often confused for bona fide fact.

"Judging by the response it gets, I'd say it's a 50-50 split between those that think it's a joke, and those that really don't," says the editor, who prefers to remain anonymous ("Our stories generate anger from people who are outraged, and I don't want to be the focal point of that anger," he says).

A story published last month claiming a new gold-class lane would be introduced on the road from Dubai to Abu Dhabi -- which the site joked would be paved in gold and separated from the other lanes with a velvet rope -- provoked earnest ire.

"This is sick. Faux-elite structures build on the back of internationally-sourced slave labor in lifestyles financed by unearned oil revenues. I am appalled at the news that comes out of this country," wrote one commenter.

Read more: Arab youth find comic relief in stand-up

An article on the site about Emirates Airlines introducing shisha lounges to their flights actually inspired a few UAE residents to contact the carrier for more information. It was also picked up by a few travel websites, and published as fact.

"Even the terribly photoshopped picture," he marvels.

In Egypt, satire is fine so long as it's going in one direction, which is hysterically satirical in itself
Editor, Pan-Arabia Enquirer

As for why his readers seem so gullible, he attributes it to the infancy of satire in the Middle East.

"Satire isn't exactly alien, but it's not a known concept in the region. People here have a tendency to believe everything that is put in a newspaper," he notes.

Whether the art form is new or not is subject to debate. Still, many agree that it is ripening in the region.

"We've always had room for satire, though maybe it was more widespread in Lebanon -- due to their strong TV channels, political system and level of freedom of speech -- though it's always been around in Jordan in terms of play shows, newspaper columnists and caricatures," notes Fadi Zaghmout, the Jordanian blogger behind The Arab Observer, and one of the Pan-Arabia Enquirer's 4,500 Twitter followers.

"I do see it gaining ground now," he adds.

Read more: In the Middle East, cartoons can kill

After running a story about Emirates introducing shisha on their flights, the carrier received requests from interested customers
After running a story about Emirates introducing shisha on their flights, the carrier received requests from interested customers
Following Argo\'s Oscar win, The Pan-Arabia Enquirer joked about a new Angry Birds edition.
Following Argo's Oscar win, The Pan-Arabia Enquirer joked about a new Angry Birds edition.

Pan-Arabia's editor says that while some people don't get the joke, many seem to find the site a lifeline.

"I definitely think there's a hunger for it," he says. "We get comments from people who say, 'thank God there's something like this here, I was going out of my skull,' and readers are starting to send in their own stories. Some of the biggest stories have been sent in by readers, and not just Western expats taking the piss out of the country they live in -- most come from Arab readers."

Of course in many ways, the Middle East is not an easy place to be a satirist.

Earlier this month, Bassem Youssef, the Egyptian talk show often likened to Jon Stewart, had his show suspended after he started poking fun at the country's military regime. Other comics in the region have faced similar fates. Sami Fehri, a Tunisian producer of a political puppet show, was imprisoned for a year on corruption charges, and in July, Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for mocking religious figures.

"This is what has put us down as a community, as a population, for so long. We can't really talk back," Youssef told CNN in an interview earlier this year.

"People equate being laughed at as being ridiculed, [saying] 'I can't be ridiculed by this little dot dot dot brat. But if you start to suppress people's freedom of speech under any excuse you want, it's not good for the country," he added.

Pan-Arabia's editor, who says he admires Youssef's humor and bravery greatly, finds his suspension from television somewhat ironic.

"There he was, happily mocking [former president Mohamed] Morsy, and he got arrested, and everyone went out on the street pushing for free speech and he gets put back on air. Then everything changes, and he goes on air and mocks [General Abdel Fattah] el-Sisi, and everyone's in uproar. In Egypt, satire is fine so long as it's going in one direction, which is hysterically satirical in itself."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
Where better to start a record-breaking solar powered flight than the desert?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Ahmed Eldin is the 18-year-old behind the prog-rock band's new album cover. Shine on you crazy diamond.
September 17, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
The Humans of New York photo project exposes the hopes and fears of ordinary people in Iraq and Jordan.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 0247 GMT (1047 HKT)
At first glance, the UAE seems ill-suited to ice hockey: the only snow and ice to be found is usually in fabricated form in a shopping mall.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 0206 GMT (1006 HKT)
Dubai's appetite for construction continues with multi-billion dollar boost to build the world's largest airport.
September 8, 2014 -- Updated 0440 GMT (1240 HKT)
Does faith have a place on the sports field? One Muslim NFL star believes so.
September 9, 2014 -- Updated 0302 GMT (1102 HKT)
The UAE is becoming a hub for plastic surgery with more Emiratis going under the knife each year.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1120 GMT (1920 HKT)
Meet Erdal Inci, a digital artist from Turkey who is transforming the medium.
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1339 GMT (2139 HKT)
Iran is pumping billions of dollars into a scheme to save a lake. What's so important about it?
August 8, 2014 -- Updated 0218 GMT (1018 HKT)
A volatile Middle East has changed the tenor of Ramadan programming in Egypt. Now, no topic is too taboo.
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 0253 GMT (1053 HKT)
Dubai has got some big animal attractions in its mega malls. But not everyone is wild about the idea.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 0314 GMT (1114 HKT)
Orhan Pamuk, Turkey's Nobel Prize-winning author, is neither afraid to confront the human condition nor the state his country is in.
ADVERTISEMENT