The rise of the Arab superhero — It all started with ‘The 99’

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Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa
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Audience are thrilled to play at a locally designed table by REteam, a local group of four guys interested in old-fashioned video game console.
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Floor plan for ComiCon Arabia exhibition in Riyadh.
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Aseel Al-Yaagoub, an amateur artist, drawing her favorite portraits.
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Saudi-themed superhero graphics have seen a spur inrecent years, mainly focusing on shimagh (the headdress)and the hijab.
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Yusuf, 9, and Abdullah, 6, dressed as Captain America and Thor. Yusuf said he chose Captain America because ‘he leads the Avengers.’
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Ahmad Farhar sits on his throne — a replica of the throne depicted in ‘Game of Thrones.’ It cost Farhar SR7,000. He worked on it daily for four hours for one month. And, he told fellow geeks, it is not for sale.
Updated 25 November 2017

The rise of the Arab superhero — It all started with ‘The 99’

RIYADH: The first modern Arab comic, “The 99,” created by Kuwaiti psychiatrist Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa and featuring a team of superheroes with special abilities based on the 99 attributes of God, was published by Teshkeel Comics in October 2010.
Al-Mutawa was not the first to create superheroes in this way. A number of modern superheroes are based on Greek and Norse mythological figures such as Heracles and Thor while others are built on action heroes gifted with special powers such as Superman or Batman.
The characters in “The 99” include Dr. Ramzi, a scholar and social activist, and the 99 youngsters with special abilities given to them by the “Noor” gemstones, which were lost during the Mongolian invasion of Baghdad.
The evil characters are led by the power-hungry Rughal, who tries to steal the power of the Noor stones for himself. The storyline shows the 99 characters led by Dr. Ramzi in pursuit of social justice and peace against the forces of evil.
The adaptation of superheroes in Arab culture is considered by many to be modest, apart from a few examples such as “One Thousand and One Nights,” “Sinbad the Sailor” and “Aladdin,” which had the usual stereotypes of turban-wearing Arabs riding camels and fighting with curved swords.
In spite of this stereotyping in the entertainment industry, Arabs and Muslims do exist in American comics as superheroes, such as Kamala Khan, who is a Pakistani American superhero known as “Ms. Marvel,” Simon Baz, the Lebanese American who becomes the first Arab member of the Green Lantern Corps, and Sooraya Qadir (Dust), a mutant from Afghanistan who becomes a member of the X-Men.

Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

Updated 20 July 2019

Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

  • The TV images beamed from 320,000km away in space left viewers astounded but happy
  • The TV coverage influenced thinking and attitudes in the Kingdom just like everywhere else

DUBAI: It was a sleepy afternoon in Saudi Arabia, just days before the end of the school vacation, and Saudis had their eyes glued to their TV sets as they waited for live coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Before July 20, 1969, the idea of a human walking on the moon was the stuff of science fiction. However, almost overnight, sci-fi had turned into reality with a live broadcast showing American astronaut Neil Armstrong’s dramatic descent onto the empty lunar landscape.

Between science fiction and science fact, the live coverage of the lunar landing amounted to an unusual fusion of news and entertainment.

Saudi TV technicians bring the first live images of Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon landing to
viewers around the Kingdom. (Supplied photo)

The historic images — beamed back to Earth more than 320,000 km away — left Saudi viewers astounded and confused, but mostly elated to be witnessing such an epoch-making event.

The event was covered live on television and radio stations in Saudi Arabia. Most Saudis and residents living in the Kingdom watched it on Saudi channels 1 and 3, owned by Saudi Aramco.

Hessah Al-Sobaie, a housewife from Al-Dawadmi, recalled watching the moon landing from her grandparents’ backyard as an 11-year-old.

“It felt weird watching a human walk on the moon,” she told Arab News. “I remember the endless questions I asked as a child.”

While most people were aware that going to the moon was risky, many Saudis believed that such a journey was impossible and all but unthinkable.


1. NASA’s Apollo 11 mission control room in Houston has been restored to its 1969 condition and regular tours
will be conducted by the Johnson Space Center.

2. NASA ‘Science Live’ will have a special edition on July 23 on board the aircraft carrier that recovered the Apollo 11 capsule.

3. A summer moon festival and family street fair will be held in Wapakoneta, Ohio, from July 17-20.

4. Downtown Houston’s Discovery green will host a free public screening of the ‘Apollo 11’ documentary, with an appearance by NASA astronaut Steve Bowen.

5. Amateur radio operators will host a series of events on July 20-21.

6. The US Space and Rocket Center is staging a special ‘Rockets on Parade’ exhibition.

The Apollo 11 mission prompted discussions across the Middle East over the reality of what people saw on their TV screens. Some Saudi scholars found it hard to believe their eyes.

“I watched it, and I clearly remember each and every detail of the coverage,” Hayat Al-Bokhari, 68, a retired school principal in Jeddah, said.

“My father, Abdul, was 56 at the time. He said the landing was faked. He couldn’t believe or accept that a human could go to the moon.”

Khaled Almasud, 70, a retired university lecturer, was a student in the US state of Oregon at the time of the mission. “Americans were stunned and over the moon, happy with their national achievement. But many Saudis like me were either in denial or insisting on more proof.”

Since the beginning of the 1960s, King Faisal had been rapidly transforming Saudi Arabia, inviting foreign-trained experts to help build a modern country with world-class infrastructure.

Billie Tanner, now 90, lived in the Kingdom for many years with her husband, Larry, and their two children, Laurie and Scott, aged six and four. The family had just arrived in Saudi Arabia and headed to the Aramco compound in Ras Tanura in the Eastern Province.

A screengrab of video of the first lunar landing beamed toward Earth and shown on television worldwide. 

“We were going through a culture shock,” she told Arab News. “I wasn’t thinking of the moon landing, but we heard about it on the news from Dhahran.

“My kids tried to see the astronauts on the moon with their binoculars and said they could see them walking around.”

The Apollo 11 spaceflight has become a milestone in the annals of human history and science. Since 1969 space exploration has greatly expanded man’s knowledge of the universe, far beyond Earth’s limits.

The captivating live coverage of the moon landing inspired millions of people around the world, profoundly influencing their thinking and attitudes.

The people of Saudi Arabia were no exception.