Hayat Al Fahad has stirred up controversy once again — this time for her latest role as a Jewish woman living in Kuwait in the TV show, ‘Um Haroon’.
Al Fahad earlier this month made headlines when she called for the expulsion of expats from Kuwait and said she would throw them in the desert, during a telephone interview on an Arabic TV programme.
Her comments, reportedly prompted by overcrowding of hospitals in Kuwait, drew widespread criticism and condemnation for their discriminatory nature.
Now the Kuwaiti actress is back in the news, but this time, it’s for her role as Um Haroon in a new Ramadan TV series appearing on MBC1.
The drama series tells the story of a “wise and popular physician in the 1940s, and her role in a Kuwaiti village that was home to a community of different religious sects,” according to an official description.
‘Um Haroon’ has been hugely polarising, with some viewers finding it to be a new type of historical story in the region, and others taking issue with the show’s focus, as well as Al Fahad’s involvement.
“One of the best Ramadan TV shows in Khalijya (Gulf) drama. Bravo,” one Twitter user wrote, while another said it’s the first show of its kind they have watched in a long time.
“It’s actually not that bad,” another user wrote on social media. “Except for a few cringy scenes here & there.”
“I expect ‘Um Haroon’ to be the first series in Ramadan in terms of ongoing viewership,” another Twitter user wrote. “It takes you inside a new world, a broader awareness of Jews, coexistence and how intolerance can divide people.”
Meanwhile, many social media users criticised the choice of storyline and the purpose of the series.
“For what purpose did they choose Jews? Why not the Christians, who are still living in Kuwait? The female lead actress will not accept foreign brothers, but she wants to accept the Jews.”
“Hayat Al Fahad is showing us the suffering of Jews in Kuwait. Poor them. We will also wait for her to show us the suffering of Palestinians in Palestine,” another user wrote.
“The purpose of the series ‘Um Haroon’ became clear from the first episode, when one of the actresses says in Hebrew: ‘Before our impact is erased, and our lives are turned into a memory and we get lost in the crowdedness of life … I have decided to write about us and what pertains to us: we are the Jews of the Gulf,’” one user wrote.
Another person pointed to the hypocrisy in “portraying the Arab Gulf Muslim mother, sister, wife, and girl next door as gossiping, envious, hurtful, lazy and malevolent, stamping them with all the characteristics of evil, and with Um Haroon, [portraying] the good, tolerant Jewish woman, who is chaste and virtuous, and stamped with all the qualities of human perfection.”
One YouTuber, Abdul Aziz Al Saif, posted a Snapchat clip defending the series.
“Two years ago, I spoke about this exact subject and I put the video on my YouTube channel, titled ‘The history of Jews in Kuwait and the Gulf,’” said Aziz Saif. “The same comments that are being said about ‘Um Haroon’ are the ones I see on my YouTube video. For this reason, I want to clarify a few things. The first thing is that history is not up to you, whether you like it or not,” he said. “Of course, we have to differentiate between Judaism as a religion, and Zionism as an extremist political movement, and this show has nothing to do with normalisation of Zionism,” he said.
Politicians have weighed in on opposite sides of the argument, as well.
WHAT HAVE THE CREATORS SAID? ACTRESS, DIRECTOR SPEAK
“The presence of Jewish characters in this work in and of itself is something that hasn’t been done before in Gulf dramas, which makes this a completely new kind of work for viewers,” said Al Fahad.
The lead actress stressed that her character, who is a nurse, is fictional and that this is not a documentary.
“...This is [a] drama, primarily, and it presents the character Um Haroon as a peaceful and kind human being who lived in this geographical area, and learned from a young age all that has to do with medicine and obstetrics in the hospital she worked in,” continued Al Fahad.
She added: “Um Haroon possesses characteristics such as kindness, charisma and love of people, which makes her enter the heart and the home, encouraging the village people to put their trust in her....”
Egyptian director Mohammed El Adl said the work appealed to his ‘adventurous’ side.
“I’m adventurous by nature, even in Egypt, I’m not satisfied to confine myself to one type of work — I’d rather diversify as much as possible. When I was presented with the script of ‘Um Haroon’, the name of the capable actress, Hayat Al Fahad, encouraged to take on this experience, as well as the idea of bringing actors from different Gulf countries together. After all, what is stopping Arabs in general from coming together in works that befit the audience?”
‘Um Haroon’ is currently showing on MBC1, with episodes streaming first on the subscription on-demand service, Shahid VIP. At time of writing, three episodes of the show have released.