The United States President Barack Hussein Obama tweets in Arabic. Wait, what?! Obama doesn’t speak Arabic, you might say. But his middle name, Hussein, is an Arabic name. Would it be farfetched that he would tweet in Arabic?
@ArabicObama also claims the Lebanese ambassador in DC constantly flirts with him; however, any attempt on his part to flirt back with her or anyone else are constantly intercepted by the U.S. First Lady.
“My wife Michelle survived an assassination attempt, unfortunately,” read a recent tweet on the @ArabicObama account on Twitter, which has amassed quite a following, 244,279 followers to be exact, since it began tweeting 16 months ago.
Except that @ArabicObama is not real. It is a parody account.
Parody accounts on Twitter have become a new genre of satire in recent years, and Arab users are no exception in this phenomenon.
Twitter rules, while do not allow impersonation (“You may not impersonate others through the Twitter service in a manner that does or is intended to mislead, confuse, or deceive others”), actually allow parody accounts and has created guidelines for them. The guidelines emphasize that parody accounts should be named clearly as such, distinguished with qualifiers like “not,” “fake,” or “fan.” The user bio should also state that the account is indeed a parody.
However, Twitter said if the account was found to be involved in deception or misleading users they might be requested to make changes to clarify that it is a parody, or it might get suspended altogether.
This was the case for the account @QantasPR, which was suspended by Twitter after the Australian airline complained that it was “causing confusion” to its customers.
In addition to @ArabicObama, famous Arabic Twitter parody accounts include politicians, clerics, royalty and celebrity.
Many parody accounts for the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have appeared since he began a bloody crackdown to end a 18-month long popular uprising in his country.
“[Media adviser] Bouthaina Shaaban says I'm the most beautiful president in the world. 20 million Syrians call me a giraffe. Who should I believe?” read a recent tweet on the account @bashar_alasad_.
Other pillars of the Syrian regime, like businessman Rami Makhlouf and Assef Shawkat, the former deputy minister of defense who was killed by a bomb attack in Damascus last July, also get their own parody Twitter accounts.
In neighboring Jordan, when Awn al-Khasawneh was appointed prime minister in October 2011, a parody account appeared to offer a humorous solutions to the problems facing the Hashemite Kingdom. The account was short-lived, just like al-Khasawneh's tenure in office, which ended when he resigned in April 2012.
Popular Saudi cleric Mohammad al-Arifi, whose real account has over 2 million followers, inspired several spoof accounts. @Dok_Fleed, one of the parody accounts that poke fun at the famous televangelist, was recently blocked in Saudi Arabia.
Parody accounts are not limited to living personalities.
Several parody accounts exist for the late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, father of the current president. Hafez, who died in 2000, has been at the receiving end of protesters' anger who blame him for instating his son Bashar in power after ruling the country with an iron fist for three decades, with many demonstrations across the country repeating what has become a signature chant of the Syrian uprising: Curse your soul, Hafez!
“A malfunctioning GPS steered our army from Golan to Daraa,” a tweet on the account @hafez_assad from April 2011 read. “We apologize for this inconvenience and hold the U.S. accountable for the GPS.”
When a rumor spread that Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika died in Geneva earlier this week, a parody Twitter account of his was quick to respond to the rumor: “i'm still alive bitches,” said a tweet posted by @bouteflikka on September 7. A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry denied rumors on Saturday.
Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has several parody accounts to his name, the most popular one among them is @notmobarak with over 9,000 followers. His wife Suzanne also has a parody account, @SuzanneMobarak, though she does not have as many followers.
Another popular parody Twitter account from Egypt is that of Tawfik Okasha, the owner of the Al Faraeen satellite channel, who is known for his hyper-nationalist rhetoric.
The @TawfikOkasha_en has become a hit, with more than 11,500 followers. Writing in hilariously broken English, Okasha spreads conspiracy theories and attacks the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement that has ascended to power in Egypt after the revolution.
One of the longest running Twitter parody account is that of @alqaeda, which still bears the picture of its former leader Osama Bin Laden who was killed in May 2011.
“In the 5 years I've been on Twitter, I've posted 617 tweets, gained nearly 37,000 followers & been shot dead once,” read a tweet posted to the account on July 11, 2012.