BAGHDAD — The BBC’s latest venture into the Iraqi maelstrom is a drama about the life of Saddam Hussein — but it has also unwittingly become an off-the-set study in the complexities of Middle Eastern politics.
Playing the role of the ousted and executed dictator in the four-part series is Israeli actor Yigal Naor, who starred as a Palestinian character in Steven Spielberg’s “Munich.”
Playing alongside Naor, in the role of Saddam’s son-in-law, is rising Egyptian star Amr Waked, who appeared with George Clooney in the 2005 Hollywood movie “Syriana.”
Egypt’s Actors Union, which opposes normalization of ties with Israel, is furious and says Waked now faces being banned from ever filming in Egypt again.
“The position of the union is clear in its rejection of normalization and requires that members abide by this position,” declared Ashraf Zaki, chairman of the union.
“He will be facing an investigation as soon as he returns,” Zaki added. Waked is in Tunisia for the shooting of the drama, “Between Two Rivers,” which is backed by the British Broadcasting Corporation and HBO.
The actor has defended his position, telling Egyptian papers he did not know an Israeli was involved. Furthermore, he told the Egyptian Mail, the film is pro-Arab and criticizes US foreign policy.
He has made it clear he has no intention of leaving the series, in which he plays Hussein Kamel, Saddam’s son-in-law who fled from Iraq to Jordan but eventually returned and was executed.
Were he to quit now, the actor said, he would be in breach of his contract.
Egypt in 1979 became the first Arab country to sign a peace deal with Israel, but professional and artistic associations are reluctant to open up to Israel, citing continued oppression of Palestinian people and occupation of their lands.
Many who commented in the Egyptian press found it objectionable in any case that an Israeli is playing the former Iraqi leader.