- By J. Dana StusterJ. Dana Stuster is an assistant editor at Foreign Policy. He has studied at the American University of Beirut and graduated in 2010 with degrees in English and International Relations from the University of California, Davis. Before coming to FP, his work appeared in the Atlantic and the National Interest, among other publications.
Saudi Arabia has a foolproof plan to staunch revolutionary rumblings. On Thursday, the Saudi newspaper al-Medina reported that the country’s Ministry of the Interior has banned the import and sale of the Guy Fawkes masks from the graphic novel and movie V for Vendetta.
Earlier this week, al-Medina reported that the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs had issued a statement calling on public figures to instruct Saudi youth not to wear the mask as it "instills a culture of violence and extremism" and "encourages young people to breach security and spread chaos in society." Oddly, the statement singled out Sunni youths as a concern, despite the fact that unrest in Saudi Arabia has been concentrated in Shiite communities in the country’s east.
That measure apparently did not go far enough, and Thursday’s ban will include the confiscation and destruction of masks already in Saudi Arabian markets and toy stores. "It should be noted that young people have strange traditions," mused al-Medina.
Saudi Arabia is not the first country to ban the mask — Bahrain, where an underground protest movement has simmered for the past two years, prohibited them in February (that hasn’t stopped some activists, like the one above in Manama). Drawing on the imagery of the blockbuster film — in which the mask becomes a symbol of united opposition to a fascist government — the masks have become a popular accessory for protesters around the world, from Occupy Wall Street to Tahrir Square to the online hacker collective Anonymous.
Of course, Saudi protesters have bigger concerns than the legality of their masks — given that political demonstrations themselves are banned throughout the country. Protesters bold enough to take to the streets, though, may now have to be a bit more traditional in how they hide their faces. But revolutionaries, don’t worry: Balaclavas and kaffiyehs are still legal.
(h/t: Riyadh Bureau)
Marya Hannun contributed to this post.
Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland.| FP Explainer |