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So far, the street protests across the Arab world haven't reached Saudi Arabia - and most experts agree that it's not likely. The country has the largest economy in the region and plenty of oil wealth to cushion discontent. But a group of young Saudis are taking on Egypt's protests as a source of comedic material. As NPR's Deborah Amos discovered, far in the Saudi desert.

Unidentified Man: Are you ready?

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified Man: Are you ready?

(Soundbite of cheering)

DEBORAH AMOS: Young Saudis drove 80 miles outside the capital, past remote villages and Bedouin tents, to sit under the midday sun for a stand-up comedy festival. As he waits to go onstage, the host of the show jokes about Saudis who usually don't show up on time for anything.

Mr. FAHAD ALBUTAIRI (Comedian): It's surprising. It's not exactly typically Saudi. But it's 95 percent full, and it's, like, less than 10 minutes before the show. My name is Fahad Albutairi and I'm a Saudi stand-up comedian.

AMOS: Albutairi, 25, is a part-time comic and a full-time geologist. He warms up the crowd with pointed remarks related to Egypt's unrest and the lack of coverage in the Saudi media.

Mr. ALBUTAIRI: And in light of recent events, I would like to say to everyone that I do not read the newspaper anymore. I'm on Twitter. I don't watch TV anymore. I'm on YouTube.

AMOS: Albutairi says that the youth-driven uprising has resonance with this audience.

Mr. ALBUTAIRI: The news is so big, it's almost impossible to contain. You must have an opinion or otherwise you are not human - I'll be very honest with you -because the issue in Egypt, it's all about the people. There's millions that agree on one thing. You got to listen to them.

AMOS: This comedy show in the desert - approved by the government - is an example of an experiment in freedom of expression that began when King Abdullah came to power in 2005. But just how far does it go? The Americans who are part of the show are not sure.

New York-based comedian Dean Obeidallah checked out his jokes with the organizers. He plans to tell one about looting at the Egyptian museum - OK; one about Iraqis fleeing Cairo for the safety of Baghdad - yeah, sure; and a joke about the Saudis and their obsession with status.

Mr. DEAN OBEIDALLAH (Comedian): I think I'll talk about how in Saudi, the only way you'll ever have protests is if there's a VIP section, because Saudis won't want it for a regular protest. It has to be VVIP, VIP.

AMOS: The Saudi comics take on Egypt in a more direct way.

Unidentified Man: Give is up for Pharaoh(ph) Ibraheem Al Khairallah.

AMOS: Khairallah is the most daring of the Saudis. He delivers his jokes in English, heavily mixed with Arabic - and he hits home with barbed remarks about Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Mr. IBRAHEEM AL KHAIRALLAH (Comedian): You know, Egypt - ooh, mushkeli.

AMOS: Egypt, big problem, he begins. And then he jokes that Egypt's president may soon visit the Saudi city of Jeddah. That's the place Tunisia's president took refuge when street protesters ended his rule.

Khairallah gets the biggest laughs when he says that Mubarak will have to travel around Jeddah on jet skis - that's a very local joke. In the past week, the Saudi port city has been hit with damaging floods. Saudi Facebook groups have expressed anger with inept government response.

Mr. KHAIRALLAH: A lot in Saudi don't exactly get stand-up comedy irony. They just think irony is something you do at the laundry.

(Soundbite of applause)

AMOS: Of course, this desert camp of young people - men and women enjoying an afternoon of entertainment - is far from the world of the conservative capital, with no movies or theaters. The real Saudi Arabia, says Fahad Albutairi, is somewhere in between.

Mr. ALBUTAIRI: Saudi Arabia, right now, because of the population - they're so young - it's best represented by the youth themselves. So, if you meet enough young Saudis, you'll get a better picture of Saudi Arabia.

And we're changing things little by little but we are changing, and it's happening. The youth is the future.

AMOS: Deborah Amos, NPR News, Riyadh.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: You're listening to NPR News.

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