Cartoons are narratives of social observations

Updated 14 June 2014

Cartoons are narratives of social observations

For many people, a cartoon is perceived as a drawing or painting intended to present social issues or political events in a satirical or humorous style, but Ali Al-Ghamdi, a Saudi cartoonist with Al-Madina newspaper, said the ideas for a cartoonist are derived from the community, local events and political developments, and even from readers, citizens and networking sites.
Being in the business for more than 20 years, Al-Ghamdi highlighted a considerable difference between a cartoonist and a photographer.
“A cartoonist is more of a painter. Many Saudi painters, who have become cartoonists, organize their own exhibitions and contribute regular features to newspapers and elicit the readers’ reaction,” he said, adding that usually a cartoonist observes any event with a critical eye.
“In every situation, the cartoonist’s critical eye detects something to draw the attention of the readers, sometimes in a provocative manner,” he explained, urging newspapers to provide some space for amateur Saudi cartoonists.
There are nearly 20 professional Saudi cartoonists in the Kingdom according to Al-Ghamdi, in addition to dozens of citizens who are still fresh in this profession and their work can be seen online.
A cartoonist depends essentially on the simulation of reality with no need for a very high drawing skill, said Al-Ghamdi, explaining that a cartoonist can be a good artist with half of a painter’s talent provided he has creative ideas to convey through his art.
Al-Ghamdi said there are several schools where one can learn different types of art in Europe and the United States, such as silent art, with comments or signature.
“The cartoon style differs from one artist to another. While some employ the symbol of a feather or key, others make use of cartoon personalities such as Hanzala and Sultan, or symbols such as a crow or some other image,” he said.
He underscored that the Saudi Association for Cartoonists is yet to give the required attention to cartoonists just as the professional associations of writers and journalists have failed so far to give any support to their members.
“Unfortunately, trade unions and professional associations in the Kingdom have not been up to their responsibilities where they should act as a driving force for their members as is the case with their counterparts in other countries,” he explained.
Echoing Al-Ghamdi, Ashraf Abdullah, a leading cartoonist and European Arab journalist, explained more about the profession, saying that the tools of a cartoonist differ from common painters in the sense that a cartoonist must be endowed with drawing skills accompanied by employing meaningful shades and fully familiar with social issues in his surroundings and beyond.
“A successful cartoonist should not miss any development in society. He should have a sharp eye observing each and every political, economic or social development in any part of the world, particularly in his own country,” Abdullah, who is also member of Egyptian cartoonists association, said.
He stressed the importance of learning from other artists and acquiring theoretical knowledge besides participating in international contests, which will give artists more exposure to the outer world, adding that the Arab cartoonists are challenged by the lack of professional cartoon institutes or schools in the Arab world.
Abdullah stressed the role of female cartoonists who need plenty of support and encouragement from society. However, he said, female artists are reluctant to work in public due to social traditions and the fear of criticism.
“Some of them published their work without revealing their real identity” he said.
So far, most of the Kingdom’s cartoons, which could be described as conventional, have focused on negative aspects of society without making any personal attacks on any one. Yet Saudi cartoonists, who avoid local or international political issues, never submit entries in the political section of exhibitions abroad, he said.
Calling for effective activation of the Arab Federation of Cartoonists and celebrating an international level Arab Cartoon Day, Abdullah also demanded that more cartoon exhibitions should be organized.
Cartoonist Manal Muhammed of Al-Jazirah newspaper said she underwent a wonderful transition from a painter to cartoonist.
Manal, who observed that women rarely show interest in joining this type of profession, said her ideas revolved around social issues, particularly of women.
“I did not receive any help from others to develop my skill as a cartoonist and my concern was about the plight of Saudi women,” Manal said, adding that she dealt with themes such as Hafiz (incentive to find employment) and problems faced by women teachers among other issues.
Stressing the need for the establishment of special institutes for training women, Manal expressed her willingness to conduct workshops to help emerging women cartoonists, adding that to be a good cartoonist you do not need to possess a high level of drawing skills. But a sharp eye for criticism is essential.


Saudis unite in condemnation of US Navy base attack

Updated 08 December 2019

Saudis unite in condemnation of US Navy base attack

  • The attack, in which a Saudi gunman killed three Americans, is viewed as an act that does not represent Saudi people
  • The OIC has said the attacker did not represent the tolerant Islamic values that distinguish the Saudi people

From the king and top-level Saudi government officials to everyday Saudi citizens, all are united in condemning the attack on a US Navy base in Pensacola, Florida, calling it as “un-Islamic” and barbaric.

The shooting of three Americans by a Saudi gunman was an individual attack that does not represent the Kingdom’s people, it has been widely  stressed. 

For decades, many Saudis have lived in the US for work or attended universities across many states, becoming their own ambassadors. 

Nedda Akhonbay, a communications professional working in Jeddah, expressed her sadness when she heard the news.

“My condolences go out to the families of the victims as I hope they find peace in their lives after facing such a tragedy. As a Saudi-American and having spent many formative years in the US and made friends who became like family, I thought this attack was very close to home and I hope both people work together to get past it.”

“As a student who lived in the States, I never faced any problems for being a Muslim,” said Alaa Sendi, an American-Saudi lecturer working in Jeddah University.

Having obtained a PhD in electrical engineering, Dr. Nazih Al-Othmani lived between the states of Michigan and Pennsylvania for ten years in the late 1990s and was in the US during the 9/11 attacks. He recalled how Americans understood that such atrocious attacks never represented a community, and this one was no exception.

“The tragic event that took place yesterday does not represent us, this attack is unacceptable regardless of any reason and no sane person can ever accept it,” he said. “I lived in the States for many years, I was also there on 9/11, and made many American friends throughout my time there. They stood by us, they helped us, protected us and our relationship was very civil and courteous. We need to stand together to combat this dangerous tendency that can be found in every community.”

The attack at the US naval station in Pensacola, Florida, was the second incident at an American military base in this week, following another shooting at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Wednesday. (
Josh Brasted / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)

Many Saudis are angered over the actions of this one individual. Dr. Al-Othmani expressed his concerns about those who would take advantage of the situation and try to point a finger at Saudis.

“Though right-wingers will take advantage of the event and attack Saudi Arabia, I don’t believe many Americans will see it that way. Americans are aware enough to differentiate between the nationality of an individual and his actions,” he said.

Al-Othmani recommends that Saudi students communicate, cooperate and extend a hand of friendship to their respective communities.

In the decades of friendship and cooperation between the US and Saudi Arabia, many Americans have come to work in the Kingdom and some have made it their home. 

Dr. Alia Mitchell, vice dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Director of the Teaching and Learning Center at the Prince Sultan University in Riyadh, is an American citizen who has been a Muslim for more than 30 years and has lived in the Kingdom for more than 20 years. She has chosen to live in the Kingdom as she sees the beauty of the religion interwoven into society, one that she believes is not represented by the shooter. 

“When something tragic that happens like this, it’s on the individual,” she said. “it doesn’t go back to the community or the society.

“I’m still sickened and mostly very, very saddened with this tragedy,” said Melanie H. “I’ve a son the same age as the shooter and can’t imagine what the pain and grief his actions would do to me as a parent. To learn that your son has caused so much hell… that he has taken others’ lives.”

She said: “I lived in Saudi Arabia for over 10 years and I have experienced Saudi’s hospitality, warmth — nothing like what I imagined or expected before arriving. It isn’t perfect but then what country or nation is?” 

“Now that the country has opened its doors to the world, people really shouldn’t judge the book by its cover especially when criminals like this shooter make such a false, misleading cover.” 

Melanie H continued: “Do not judge a people by an individual — that’s what we Americans are all about. No judging.”


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“This crime does not represent us as Saudis,” said Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Sheikh, minister of Islamic Affairs, on his personal Twitter account. “We reject such criminal acts and we sympathize with the injured and the families of the victims. It is a horrible crime and a dishonest act.

“We condemn crimes anywhere and anytime, and we stress our complete rejection of such horrible criminal acts which Islam forbids.”

Saudi scholar and Imam of Quba Mosque in Madinah Saleh Al-Maghamsi shared the same notion. He said: “This incident should be stripped away from religion and from the country to which whoever committed this criminal act is affiliated. The Shariah does not approve of this act for it violates the texts of the Holy Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet, which is based on the principle of no bloodshed. Logic also does not approve of this action.” 

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said the aggressor did not represent the tolerant Islamic values that distinguish the Saudi people and all Muslims who believe in tolerance, moderation and coexistence.

The General Secretariat of the Council of Senior Scholars in Saudi Arabia also condemned the shooting incident in Florida and called it a heinous crime. 

Describing it as a crime against humanity, the senior scholars stressed that such actions were against the true teachings of Islam. They said that the Saudi people will continue to uphold their noble values and contribute to the progress and prosperity of the world and humanity.