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.

A catering firm in Saudi Arabia tackles obesity from school level

Updated 19 October 2019

A catering firm in Saudi Arabia tackles obesity from school level

  • Rihab Hasanain set up Blooming Bs to provide schoolchildren with healthy meals
  • Blooming Bs strives to raise awareness of the obesity problem in the Kingdom

CAIRO: One Saudi woman was so concerned about her children’s unhealthy school-canteen meals that she decided to improve not only her family’s diet but also the eating habits of the entire nation.

Rihab Hasanain, spurred by the Kingdom’s growing obesity epidemic, set up the catering firm Blooming Bs to provide children with healthy lunch boxes and offer them advice on the importance of eating healthy food and being active.

The company’s name originates from the three Bs: Brain, body and box. The healthy boxes are provided to students and children aged two and above at schools, canteens, childcare centers and indoor playground centers.

Saudi Arabia has the Middle East’s second-highest obesity level after Kuwait with a 35.4 percent rating,  according to the CIA World Factbook.

Hasanain said that she wants to raise awareness of the region’s obesity problem, particularly among children.

“Childhood obesity is one of the greatest challenges facing health care systems worldwide,” she said.

“A number of factors have contributed to the problem, such as lack of childhood physical activities, and a low awareness around the prevalence of obesity and non-communicable diseases.”

Hasanain said that Blooming Bs’ mission is to combat childhood obesity in Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries by promoting healthy eating habits.

Rihab Hasanain

This includes educating children and parents about the importance of healthy food and lifestyles, providing youngsters with healthy food choices, and creating a community of future healthy eaters.

In Saudi Arabia, a major contributing factor to the obesity crisis is the widespread availability of unhealthy food in school canteens, she said.

In 2016, the ambitious mother of two took matters into her own hands by establishing her commercial kitchen in the Kingdom’s capital Riyadh.

Using her personal savings, Hasanain hired a team of 10 multidisciplinary women, including public relations and administration staff, social-work specialists, early childhood educators and drivers.

She also leveraged her international connections to help secure support and endorsement from a number of prominent mentors.

“They are extraordinary individuals with an outstanding track record in social entrepreneurship, hospitality and, most importantly, health promotion and healthy school canteens,” Hasanain said.

Blooming Bs has since grown to cater to more than 20 day-care units and schools, as well as hundreds of individual families. The firm has now sold more than 45,000 items and served over 10,000 lunch meals since its launch.

Hasanain said that the company’s contracts and deliveries vary according to customer categories.

“Our products range from morning, lunch and afternoon meals for children to freshly squeezed juices and individual food items that can be sold individually at school canteens,” she said.

“We take the stress away for parents. Our clients are assured that our products are healthy because the meals are created based on the consultation of our in-house nutritionist.”

While Hasanain is well on her way to transforming the diets of children in Riyadh, she has her eye on the bigger picture.

The Blooming Bs entrepreneur also aims to solve childhood obesity in neighboring countries, such as the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar.

“During Blooming Bs’ expansion, I have tried to develop a holistic viewpoint on children’s nutrition, leading to improved operation processes and ideas,” Hasanain said.

“Blooming Bs also wants to empower Saudi and Arab women by creating more job opportunities,” she added.

“Ultimately, I see my company becoming an upscale international brand, trusted by parents, schools and governments.”


• This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.