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Mideast nets protest as death threat can ‘Kabul’

Threats against the show were posted on Web site

LONDON — Saudi satcasters the Middle East Broadcasting Corp. (MBC) and Orbit TV are suing Qatar TV over the suspension of its controversial drama serial “The Road to Kabul” after threats from Islamist extremists.

The series, due to run for 30 episodes over the holy month of Ramadan, charts the story of an Afghan woman who falls in love with a Palestinian man while studying in London. The drama follows the pair to Afghanistan in the 1980s just as the Taliban have acceded to power and follows their relationship, and the country’s fortunes, up to 2001.

Threats against the show were posted on a Web site Oct. 15, the first day of Ramadan, by a group calling itself the Mujahedeen Brigades of Iraq and Syria.

It warned: “We will strike, God willing, satellite channels showing this soap opera and their correspondents as well as their offices in Iraq and Syria. This is a warning for all those who contributed to making this soap opera, including actors, producers and cameramen if it contains insults to the Taliban.”

Qatar TV, which owns the rights to the soap after backing the Arab Audio-Visual Center production to the tune of $2 million, promptly pulled the skein.

Initially it blamed “technical reasons,” rather than the death threats, as its failure to supply the episodes. That charge was refuted by Arab Audio-Visual Center director Talal Al-Awamila, who said the final episodes had been shot and sent to Qatar TV.

The decision angered MBC, which had already aired the first eight episodes. It canceled the run after Qatar TV refused to send the remaining 22 episodes “without giving us a convincing reason.”

In a statement, MBC continued, “Qatar TV and the Arab Audio-Visual Center breached their commitment to deliver all the episodes before the date set for broadcasting before Ramadan.”

MBC is owned by Walid and Abdelaziz al-Ibrahim, brothers-in-law of Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd. Orbit is run by the king’s nephew, Fahd ben Abdullah ben Abdel Aziz.

State broadcaster Jordan Radio and Television Corp. canned the show at the request of Qatar TV, which is owned by the Emir of Qatar, who also founded Arab news channel Al-Jazeera.

TV stations in Morocco also decided not to run the soap.

This is MBC’s second setback this year: Its costly version of “Big Brother” was canceled in March. Bahrain, where the show was being lensed, banned its transmission by parliamentary decree due to vociferous public protests over what was termed un-Islamic content.

Ramadan is traditionally a big time for Arab TV nets, which often program monthlong serials.

Some opposition members of parliament in Egypt, the biggest producer of Arab TV serials in the Middle East along with Lebanon, last week urged the minister of information, Dr. Mahmoud Al Bitaji, to ban entertainment programs during Ramadan and air prayers live from mosques around the region.