Middle Eastern political cartoonists visit Kent

Allison Smith

Journalists discuss differences in writing, reporting

Five political cartoonists from Egypt, Iraq and the West Bank toured Kent State’s Journalism and Mass Communication department Friday. Amr Mohamed Okasha, Alaa Kadhum Abed, Husham Hussein Al-Dhuhaibani, Ayyed Hasan Mahdi and Mohammad Abdel Subaaneh came to the United States as part of the Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

Greg Blase, associate director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, gave the cartoonists a tour of Franklin Hall. The visitors seemed particularly interested in the student-drawn political cartoons on display in the third floor hallway and stopped there to examine them in some detail.

“I think I will profit from a lot of what I have seen and heard here,” said Mahdi, a cartoonist for the Habazbooz newspaper in Iraq. “Of course, I won’t be able to apply 100 percent of what I’ve learned when I go home. Iraq is not the United States.”

Mahdi said there is no problem reporting on politics in his country, but there are certain red lines that you can’t cross.

“You cannot criticize religious leaders, despite the mistakes that they have made,” he said. “Unfortunately, our religious leaders refuse to accept the idea of being criticized. It seems this is going to take some time in Iraq for the people to start appreciating the culture of democracy.”

Subaaneh, a cartoonist for the Al-Hayat daily newspaper out of the West Bank, said that even though they couldn’t parody religious leaders, there is still plenty of content to write about.

“Daily events are what drive a story,” he said. “It is not very hard to find things to write about because things are happening every day. You may even write several stories.”

Later in the tour, Tim Smith, professor of journalism and mass communication, gave a talk on law and journalism in the United States. He asked what sort of law protected reporters and cartoonists in the Middle East.

Okasha, a cartoonist and the assistant managing editor for Al-Wafd newspaper, said there are no laws governing the journalism profession.

“There are no restrictions on the government to just say that whatever you’ve done is illegal,” he said. “What we are doing now is a very great risk because you really don’t know what the response will be.”

Okasha said journalists are working very hard to push the government to establish guidelines and laws to protect journalists. He said Iraq has the highest number of journalists being killed.

“It’s the only thing we like to do and the only thing we know how to do,” he said. “This is real journalism. It’s an adventure.”

Contact news editor Allison Smith at [email protected].