From behind a veil and using a fake name, a 22-year-old Saudi Arabian woman has become a sensation on social media, making short video clips mocking the lives of the elites in the kingdom.
Going by the name Amy Roko she has amassed more than 350,000 followers on Twitter. Her humour touches on how women in Saudi Arabia are seen as second-class citizens – they are not allowed to drive cars, for example.
Roko hits back at such patriarchal bigotry with skits that skewer the Saudi stereotype of passive women at the beck and call of men.
In one clip, her brother asks their father for money, and gets some, but when she makes the same request the father tells her: “I gave you some last week.”The father then tells her to make him breakfast, but she quickly deploys the exact same line against him, snapping back: “I made you breakfast last week.”
In another clip, she approaches a man in a hallway and he seems set to make an unwanted pass at her.
Soft music plays in the background, to be suddenly cut off as she goes through a series of warning karate moves, before heavy rap music blasts out and she walks away smugly.
The Saudi-owned broadcaster al-Arabiya was impressed enough to cover her story on one of its flagship shows. But then her problems began. Her jokes about spoiled, rich young women and girls – a touchy point in the oil-rich, conservative kingdom where women are largely removed from the workforce – earned her instant derision on the very social media platforms she had otherwise wittily employed.
Amy impersonates the way some women speak – a manner of speech sometimes seen as flirtatious and silly.
In other clips, she pokes fun at how women act when they gather without men, trying to impress each other with their expensive clothes.
As the online flood gates opened, Amy took to Twitter to issue a formal apology to women who felt insulted by her mocking of their upper-class slang.
Flood of support
At the same time, though, she also received a deluge of support from women, proud to see one of their own making it big.
“I saw you on tv, you looked amazing, intelligent and cool. Keep up the good work sister,” said one Twitter user in support.
Wearing the Muslim headscarf and veil has become something of a trademark for Amy Roko. She has tweeted about the right to dress like that in the West. And she has strongly criticised incidents where Muslim women have faced perceived discrimination for covering up.