Rozan Ahmed’s career path took her from the music industry to the United Nations — and that was just in her 20s.

Though she was born in London, Ahmed was raised with a great appreciation for her parents’ native Sudan, as well as a fascination for how people both create and perceive stories and other content across the world. She was particularly interested in the way that the historical influences of the pharaohs, the Nubians, the Arabs, and so many others had contributed to the rich and multifaceted culture of the northern African nation.

Despite that robust history, she realized the entire African continent had still been lumped into a kind of "single story." Even the people she knew in Sudan bought into that same negative image. "How is this allowed to happen?" she wondered. "Is this purposeful? Surely there are more people than just me who are visiting the continent."


Sudanese women. Photo by David Stanley/Flickr.

She began to question her career path and the ways her identity as a black British Muslim woman fit within a local and global context. Then she met a prince.

Prince Fahad Al Saud, that is, the grandson of the brother of the king of Saudi Arabia.

A graduate of Stanford University, Al Saud was part of the original team behind Facebook in Arabic — and he was largely socialized around forward-thinking, independent women, according to Ahmed, and is a stark contrast to what some people might expect from a wealthy Arab prince. "Fahad is certainly aware that he's a man," she says, "but he leans on women because he believes in them more, and was raised around strong women."

Ahmed and Al Saud at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for IWC.

A mutual friend introduced Ahmed and Al Saud. Like her, he was frustrated by the way his culture was portrayed in media. This inspired him to create a new media company called Na3am, a play on the Arabic word for "yes."

Given Ahmed’s background in stories and culture, they were a perfect creative match.

In 2015, Na3am announced the launch of "Saudi Girls Revolution," a series of interconnected video games and comic books set in a post-apocalyptic world full of awesome Arab heroines.

Early character sketches from "Saudi Girls Revolution," provided courtesy of Na3am.

"It is the story of the girls breaking out and liberating the Arab empire by replacing its leaders," Al Saud said when the series was announced. "We're focusing on trying to represent different stories and demographics of Saudi women in the protagonists we have."

The seven protagonists — all Saudi women — travel the desert wastes with motorcycles and jetpacks, facing off against mutant enemies and an evil regime of oppressive men who control the last remaining resources in the land. In its earliest hype, "Saudi Girls Revolution" was already receiving favorable comparisons to American movies like "Mad Max: Fury Road."

A few of the "Saudi Girls Revolution" comic book covers, courtesy of Na3am.

"'Saudi Girls Revolution' is an attempt to show the rest of the world that there’s a lot more to us as Arab women," adds Ahmed, who serves as editor for the comics. "We’re strong. We’re powerful. We know we overcome. We’re badass. We’re so many other things."

Of course, some detractors have been eager to point out the ironies of the SGR universe, considering the real-life treatment of some Saudi women.

It is still illegal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia, and the country's workforce is still overwhelmingly male. But video games and comics featuring motorcycle-riding badasses aren't restricted by the same expectations.

"It's a fictional universe, and we're showing the world as we want it to be, not things as they are," Ahmed says.

Image from "Latifa #1" by Fahad Al Saud and Stan Berkowitz, illustrated by Sebastian Navas. Used with permission.

While things are far from perfect for women in Saudi Arabia, Arab women in other countries have made great gains in recent years. "The Arab world is so varied when it comes to female achievement. Of course there’s setbacks, but there’s setbacks everywhere you go," Ahmed adds.

"It comes down to choosing which problems you prefer. I prefer to celebrate the beauty that comes forth from the world, particularly Africa and Arabia, and I use that beauty to address the problems as well."

From "Latifa #1" by Fahad Al Saud and Stan Berkowitz, illustrated by Sebastian Navas. Used with permission.

"I believe that we are living in the future right now, and it is inclusive," Ahmed says. "'Saudi Girls Revolution' is a part of that future. So get on the ride and enjoy it with us, because it’s a beautiful ride."

The first chapter of the comic was released in November 2016 and focuses on a character named Latifa, whose name means "compassionate" in Arabic despite the fact that her story is one of vengeance. "For me, it represents the ability to be both. It raises the question of: When is it right to fight?" Ahmed says.

That's exactly why something like "Saudi Girls Revolution" is so exciting and so important for the world right now: It helps us to embrace the duality of our selves while inspiring greater change on a personal and global scale.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

When schools closed early in the spring, the entire country was thrown for a loop. Parents had to figure out what to do with their kids. Teachers had to figure out how to teach students at home. Kids had to figure out how to navigate a totally new routine that was being created and altered in real time.

For many families, it was a big honking mess—one that many really don't want to repeat in the fall.

But at the same time, the U.S. hasn't gotten a handle on the coronavirus pandemic. As states have begun reopening—several of them too early, according to public health officials—COVID-19 cases have risen to the point where we now have more cases per day than we did during the height of the outbreak in the spring. And yet President Trump is making a huge push to get schools to reopen fully in the fall, even threatening to possibly remove funding if they don't.

It's worth pointing out that Denmark and Norway had 10 and 11 new cases yesterday. Sweden and Germany had around 300 each. The U.S. had 55,000. (And no, that's not because we're testing thousands of times more people than those countries are.)

The president of the country's largest teacher's union had something to say about Trump's push to reopen schools. Lily Eskelsen Garcia says that schools do need to reopen, but they need to be able to reopen safely—with measures that will help keep both students and teachers from spreading the virus and making the pandemic worse. (Trump has also criticized the CDCs "very tough & expensive guidelines" for reopening schools.)

Keep Reading Show less