Dubai sends American to max-security prison for ... a YouTube satire video

Let this be a cautionary tale to Americans working abroad: not all countries appreciate a satirical sense of humor.  Minnesotan Shezanne Cassim has lived and worked in Dubai for PricewaterhouseCoopers for seven years, but he’s now imprisoned in a maximum-security prison. His offense? Making a social satire about rich Dubai “gangstas” on YouTube last October:


A UAE court jailed on Monday an American and four other men for one year after they made a YouTube video that mocked Dubai teenagers, The National daily reported.

Shezanne Cassim, a 29-year-old from Minnesota, has been held since April after being charged with endangering the security of the United Arab Emirates under a cybercrimes law.

He was also fined 10,000 dirhams ($2,725).

What was his “cybercrime”? Poking fun at wannabe gangstas in Dubai:

The 19-minute video, called the “Satwa Comedy School,” gently parodies Dubai teenagers from the city’s Satwa district who styled themselves as tough “gangstas” wearing hip-hop clothes and listening to rap music, but who in reality were known for very mild behaviour.

In the mock documentary, Cassim and his friends learn the latest techniques of “Satwa G’s combat” which include the correct way to throw a shoe at a newspaper, and how in extreme cases to use a mobile phone to call for back-up.

At the risk of never being able to visit Dubai, here’s the criminal satire in its entirety:

As comedy, it’s got good production values but doesn’t sustain itself over its longish run time. It would have worked better as a series of short skits rather than one 20-minute mockumentary. The late Chris Farley did this much better in Beverly Hills Ninja. On the other hand, it beats For Your Consideration by a mile.


It’s easy to joke about this, but it’s no joke to Cassim and his family. It’s outrageous of Dubai to have locked up Cassim for even a day, let alone for eight months — and adding another year in maximum security is absurd. Dubai and UAE want to position themselves as a modern, cosmopolitan oasis in the Middle East, but this suggests that they’re just another oppressive totalitarian state with enough money to buy good PR. The US should have demanded his release months ago, and his continued incarceration should be a high-profile story for anyone who cares about even rudimentary freedoms, such as the freedom to laugh.

The Cassim family spoke to CNN this morning in an attempt to raise Shezanne’s profile here in the US:

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