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American Sentenced to a Year in United Arab Emirates Jail for Parody Video

No joke. A parody video in the UAE can get you in serious trouble. Shezanne Cassim has been sentenced to a year in jail and faces fines of over $2,700USD because of a satirical video he posted on YouTube poking very gentle fun at gangster culture in the Dubai, UAE neighborhood of Satwa. From the video’s YouTube page:

Ultimate Combat System heads to Dubai, home of the Satwa Combat School, to evaluate the martial art of “Satwa Fighting”. In its long history, the school has trained hundreds of Satwa Gs and is undoubtedly seen as the founder of the art.

Throughout the 1990s, the Satwa Gs developed a fearsome reputation that some historians today consider unfair. We study the Satwa Gs’ code of conduct and the secrets behind their combat techniques in order to fully uncover the mystery behind these legendary fighters. Did they truly deserve their reputation?

Tame by the US’s standards of comedy and satire, the  mockumentary investigates the fictional Satwa style of street fighting where Emirati men described as “deadly gangsters” are trained in naal (leather sandal) throwing and strikes with an agal, the cord used to keep traditional headscarves in place.  The deadliest weapon at the Satwa Combat School? The cell phone, which can be used to call and tweet for reinforcements.

The 19 minute video opens with a disclaimer stating it is fictional and does not intend to offend the people of the UAE of the Satwa community. After witnessing training exercises and a graduation ceremony, the film crew goes on neighborhood patrol with Satwa G members where they learn that Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur were both from the Satwa neighborhood and were trained by the grandfather of the current Satwa sensei. The video is part of series called VisaCancel, which has a Facebook page, but very little activity since January of 2013, for obvious reasons (and that name may be nomenclative destiny!)

In other videos they posted to YouTube, VisaCancel, Cassim (maximumwasta) and his pal (arjunpsk) document “offensive behavior” in Dubai:  Changing lanes to let another driver by, wearing deodorant on the train, and clearing away one’s trays, behavior they claim is

crazy and dangerous

(and which an uptight government might get upset about). These have received less than 10,000 views each; the Satwa G Combat School video had over 200,000 hits. [cont’d.]

Cassim, a 29-year old American aviation consultant seen in the far right above, posted the video over a year ago, and has been detained since April. His family is trying to find out if the year-long sentence includes time served; the UAE newspaper The National reports that he and two other men involved n the video will be released next month. The court in Abu Dhabi sentenced a total of eight people involved for

defaming the UAE’s image abroad.

Also on trial and sentenced for participating in the video: two Indians who were given the same sentence as Cassim. The two Emirati defendants were sentenced to eight months in prison each, while one Emirati was pardoned, according to Voice of America. Meanwhile, three other defendants, a Canadian woman, a British woman and an American man were each sentenced in absentia to a one-year prison sentence each and fined 10,000 dirhams (about $2,700USD).

Actually jailing people for making a very mild parody does more damage to a country’s image abroad than the actual video ever could have. And now because of  the attention drawn to Cassim’s case, more people will see it (and probably wonder what the big deal is all about).

Since the Abu Dhabi judge ordered all copies of the video destroyed, I can’t say how long it will be online.

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Lisa Derrick

Lisa Derrick

Los Angeles native, attended UC Berkeley and Loyola Marymount University before punk rock and logophilia overtook her life. Worked as nightclub columnist, pop culture journalist and was a Hollywood housewife before writing for and editing Sacred History Magazine. Then she discovered the thrill of politics. She also appears frequently on the Dave Fanning Show, one of Ireland's most popular radio broadcasts.