Saudi-Produced Biopic on Hezbollah Chief Sparks Controversy

APPhoto/Hussein Malla
APPhoto/Hussein Malla

JAFFA, Israel – A Saudi documentary film about Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has sparked controversy in the kingdom.

Some Saudis believe that “Hassan’s Story,” produced by the local Al Arabiya network, depicted one of the chief allies of Iran, Saudi Arabia’s great regional foe, too favorably.

On Saturday night, hundreds of Hezbollah supporters gathered around Al Arabiya’s Beirut office, intending to protest what they thought would be an anti-Iranian propaganda film.

But throughout the broadcast, the fears of Nasrallah’s admirers were assuaged, as the film turned out to be what the supporters largely viewed as a neutral depiction of the Shi’ite leader’s life.

Except one scene in which the young Nasrallah says his wish is to turn Lebanon “into a region of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” the film is said to focus on Nasrallah’s charisma and exceptional oratory skills from his childhood to this day.

The film ended up generating a backlash among Hezbollah’s detractors in Saudi Arabia, who claimed that it was an adulatory biopic produced with Saudi money.

“Who is [Hezbollah’s] representative in Al Arabiya?” the Saudi news site SABQ asked. “Why did they broadcast Hassan’s Story? Clearly, they fell in the trap of terror.”

The site quoted Saudi officials who claimed that the film was a PR failure. “We have plenty of resources, including media channels, but their ability to take part in our media effort is very limited,” they said.

“The responsibility lies with the Ministry of Propaganda,” they said. “We have to recruit better skilled manpower to stave off the false propaganda against the kingdom.”

Some anti-Hezbollah Saudis took to Twitter to vent their frustration.

“Some media outlets are based in the homeland, but are in fact against it,” wrote one. “They are the most dangerous.”

Another wrote: “The fact that this outrage was broadcast so soon after the kingdom halted financial support to Lebanon because of Hezbollah is exceedingly idiotic.”

“The network is not ‘Al Arabiya’ [the Arab], but Al Ibriya [the Hebrew],” wrote another, while others said the fact that the head of the network’s Iraq office is a Sunni “Shi’ite hater” is a clear indication of bias.

“The man curses and insults our kingdom day and night, and then our channel, of all channels, sings his praises,” another user wrote.

Others accused the network of unprofessionalism and treachery, and called the director, Turki Aldahil, an “ass.”

Meanwhile, the Saudi decision to put a kibosh on aid money to Lebanon sparked a Twitter storm among Shi’ite users, complete with the hashtag #We_want_the_kaaba_in_dahieh, demanding to bring Mecca’s most sacred item of worship to Beirut’s Shi’ite borough.

“Since the Saudis desecrated their sacred land, it’s time to bring the Kaaba to Dahieh,” wrote one Shi’ite. Another user added, “and then stone the Saudi devil,” referring to one of the main practices during the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

The comments were met with angry Sunni responses, such as “the Kaaba is ours and the Saud family’s, you stick to your rubbish.”

Due to the page’s popularity, it soon became a platform for commercial advertisement.