Also in 2006, Kuwaiti-born psychologist Naif al-Mutawa unveiled THE 99, a team of Muslim superheroes including several women, who became so popular they featured in Marvel Comics alongside Superman and Batman.
Another inspiration for the new artists was the animated 2007 film Persepolis about an outspoken Iranian girl that was nominated for an Academy Award, Merhej said. She said the Internet and social media are also providing women with new tools in the wake of the Arab Spring, and helping them wider audiences.
Yet for now, the Arab comic industry is a virgin market and illustrators “are doing it purely for the love of it and the expression,” said Ben Caddy, director of the Middle East Film & Comic Convention.
“Solid female characters — not just superheroes — are essential for the Arab world at this time of unprecedented violence against women,” Medlej said. “We can create in our literature the equal and balanced society we aspire to.”
Violence may form part of the new superheroine armory, but so does respect for the rule of law. As Qahera rescues Layla, she turns to the girl and says: “Don’t worry, I’ll be waiting to testify against these men with you.”