In this article, I investigate how political dissent is linguistically constructed and mitigated in memes that are circulated nationally on WhatsApp in Oman. I do so by drawing upon insights from relational approaches to face, the theorization of communicative strategies as polysemous and ambiguous, and research pertaining to the Islamic practice of lamenting. The data consist of a representative set of memes collected in the summer and fall of 2015 as part of an ethnographic project on social media and Arab identity. I theorize memes as cultural tools that take the form of ‘reasonably hostile’ lament-narratives, which enable citizens in Oman to engage in democracy while saving face. To create lament-memes that voice dissent while mitigating face-attacks, Omanis draw upon various communicative strategies: They use repetition, code choice, hashtags, and different genres; they juxtapose emojis with text; and they manipulate the production and participation frameworks of texts. Collectively, these strategies, which function via intertextuality, allow the concerns to be aired, but indirectly and playfully. The article demonstrates how political dissent is negotiated and mitigated through memes, the agency of social media users, and the validity of conceptualizing memes as cultural tools.
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