Skip to main content
Outdated Browser

For the best experience using our website, we recommend upgrading your browser to a newer version or switching to a supported browser.

More Information

The Comic Edge: Arabic Humor

October 2019

Pharaoh seated in hot bathtub

Image: Doaa Eladl, Global Warming Effect.” Courtesy of Cartoon Movement.

This month we present humor writing translated from the Arabic. Arabic literature has a rich tradition of the comic, grounded in human folly and a keen sense of the absurd in both the personal and the political. From pompous generals to toiling laborers, in nuptial chambers and crowded graveyards, the characters in this issue offer comedy both specific and universal. Libyan author Najwa Bin Shatwan’s hapless ghost risks his (after)life as he seeks a final resting place. In two pieces from Egypt, Muhammed Mustajab looks on as quarry workers literally roast on the job, while the great poet and songwriter Ahmed Fouad Negm’s satirical lyrics skewer the powerful. Classic Iraqi writer Ibn al-Jawzi’s twelfth-century taxonomy of morons proves that stupidity has always been a current event. And in two romantic farces, Lebanon’s Sahar Mandour faithfully records a young TV star’s serial infidelity, and Yemeni playwright Wajdi Al-Ahdal’s wedding scene is upstaged by an assassination attempt. We thank our guest editor, M. Lynx Qualey, for her contributions and sharp introduction to the issue. 

Warning: Arabic Humor, Makes Frequent Stops
By M. Lynx Qualey
Humor has that paradoxical quality of being absolutely universal while also being deeply embedded in linguistic wordplay and sociocultural zeitgeist.
Run, George!
By Najwa Bin Shatwan
“There is hope. There is joy. Come on, George, let’s grab a slice of some of that fun and happiness for ourselves!”
Translated from Arabic by Sawad Hussain
Blood in Flames
By Muhammed Mustajab
Men can be angels when joy is in the air.
Translated from Arabic by Robin Moger
Important Announcement
By Ahmed Fouad Negm
Upsidedownistan here.
Translated from Arabic by Elliott Colla
The Book of Stupid People
By Ibn al-Jawzī
I shall tell you about one of the nitwits.
Translated from Arabic by Emily Jane Selove
By Sahar Mandour
After I fell for him, I never cheated on him again, except that time in Paris. And that other time.
Translated from Arabic by Nicole Fares & Sara Ramey
The Colonel’s Wedding
By Wajdi Muhammad Abduh al-Ahdal
“Did my bodyguard not explain to you that I asked him to stand in for me during the wedding ceremony . . . ?”
Translated from Arabic by Katherine Hennessey