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The marquee lights and stage set look familiar, as does the band that opened before the comedy sketch began: A nuclear plant manager is trying to cover up an accident as an employee with an oversized, conical head deadpans that she’s healthy, drawing laughter from the audience. There’s all the usual stuff: celebrity guests, “news anchors” who parody current events, musical performances and skits with edgy social commentary.

When the skit ends, the actors freeze and shout out in unison. ” Welcome to the Middle East’s newest comedy show, launched across the region last month and, of course, modeled after its famed U. But unlike its New York-based parent, “SNL Arabia” has a daunting task: finding comedic inspiration in a region plagued by war and Islamic State violence.

And don’t expect the show’s comedians to impersonate Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi and other Arab leaders or poke fun at their policies or rhetoric.

Egyptian comedians rehearse a comedy sketch about Satan's family.The Arabic version of “Saturday Night Live” recently was launched in Cairo, and has its own comedic challenges.(David Degner/For The Washington Post) “We are doing SNL without politics.It’s like you’ve lost a leg out of two,” said George Azmi, one of the show’s head writers, adding that sex and religion are also taboo subjects.“We are trying to tread softly as we go.” [Egyptian writer caught up in government’s expanding crackdown] The arrival of “SNL Arabia” comes as cultural repression is deepening in Egypt and other parts of the region.

In Saudi Arabia, blogger Raif Badawi is serving a 10-year sentence for “insulting Islam” on his website.

In Bahrain, the government has jailed journalists on what human rights groups describe as flimsy charges.

Turkish authorities seized control of the nation’s largest newspaper earlier this month.

In Egypt, no comedian has forgotten what happened to Bassem Youssef, a popular satirist.

Known as Egypt’s Jon Stewart, his version of the “The Daily Show” was shut down two years ago — the same month Sissi entered office.

Youssef once mocked Sissi, the former army general who overthrew Egypt’s Islamist president in 2013 and consolidated power in a landslide electoral victory the following year.