Nawal al-Hawsawi is outspoken, black, a qualified pilot and married to a white man – everything her critics say a Saudi woman shouldn’t be.  But despite receiving waves of abuse on social media, she refuses to bow to convention and hits back at her detractors “with love”.  Al-Hawsawi has become something of a star on social media. She has amassed almost 50,000 followers on Twitter, where she posts about the importance of racial diversity and marriage equality.

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But not everyone reading her feed is a fan. The deluge of racist abuse that came at the end of December was just the latest flurry in a long campaign. The trolls have had al-Hawsawi in their sights for years. They send her pictures of gorillas, grotesquely photoshopped African tribespeople, and they call her the A word – a derogatory Arabic term for black people that means “slave”, not dissimilar in meaning to the N word.

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Growing up in Mecca, a fairly cosmopolitan part of Saudi Arabia, al-Hawsawi says until she travelled to the US she hadn’t consciously thought of herself as “black”.  While she was there she learnt to fly and is now a certified pilot – though one who has yet to be allowed to take to the skies in her homeland. She also studied to become a marriage therapist, which is what she does now. She married a white man – an American – and returned to Saudi Arabia around a few years ago, which is when the trouble began.

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