The dangers of being a cartoonist in the Arab world

A cartoon depicting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat , shortly before Ferzat's hands were broken in an attack.

Story highlights

  • Some countries in the Middle East, like Egypt, are experiencing a 'golden age' of caricature.
  • Many cartoonists in the region can face arrest, torture and exile.
  • Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat thought he'd say 'good-bye to life' when assaulted by thugs in 2011.
  • Iranian cartoonist Nikahang Kowsar is working on a platform to make cartooning safe.

(CNN)In many ways, the Middle East makes a strange -- and at times perilous -- hotbed for caricature.

Many of the region's leaders have a poor reputation for humor, and often, the list of banned topics makes for a long read. For those that dare to satirize a taboo, the punishments can be harsh: arrest, torture, exile, even death.
    "The one thing a tyrant can't stand is to be laughed at," says Robert Russell, the executive director of the Cartoonists Rights Network International, a group that monitors the threats facing editorial cartoonists globally.
    "If there's rebellion in the streets, they can bring out the tanks, but if everyone is laughing at you, what defense do you have? It undermines the authority of a tyrant to be laughed at."
    Despite the dangers that await many Arab cartoonists, some of the region's more contentious countries are actually experiencing a political satire renaissance.