Arab social media users took to their various platforms to express their disapproval as several celebrities attended Riyadh Season in Saudi Arabia amidst the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
The controversy was first stirred after Egyptian actor Mohammed Sallam announced stepping down from his role in Zawag Estena’i (Artificial Marriage), a play that was scheduled to run at Mohammed Al Aaly theater as part of Riyadh Season, Saudi’s leading winter entertainment event, in light of the rising death toll of Palestinians since the outbreak of the war on 7 October.
الفنان المحترم الأنسان محمد سلام … كل التحية والاحترام لأنسانيتك ❤️❤️
والرزق بأيد ربنا وربنا هيكرمك pic.twitter.com/8wNXveHSA2
— Ga3Fa☈ (@thegaafar) October 24, 2023
In a video that was widely circulated, Salam told his followers that he could not in good conscience perform his role while “our brothers and sisters in Palestinian were being murdered.”
The 39-year-old actor went on to explain that he hoped that Riyadh Season would be postponed, but once it became clear that the event was scheduled to run on time, he could not have remained silent.
His position garnered mixed emotions, with many users applauding his “courage” for risking his career to support Palestinians and raise awareness of the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza.
Hala Shiha, Iman Al Assi, Maram Abo Ouf, and other entertainment figures also praised Sallam for his position.
However, the video also drew criticism from Mohamed Amin, Tamer Abdelmoniem, and Late Night TV Host Amr Adeeb, who accused Sallam of virtue signaling and indirectly putting his colleagues, who chose to remain professional and honor their acting responsibilities, in a bad light.
As the death toll in Gaza and the intensity of Israeli-lead attacks increase, the fourth edition of Riyadh Season has been under fire, with many juxtaposing pro-Palestine protests occurring in Western countries to the celebratory atmosphere in Riyadh.
Photographs of Egyptian celebrities, such as Mohammed Henedy, Ahmed Ezz, Ashraf Abdel Ba’i, Baioumi Fouad, and others, surfaced on X, following a gala dinner held on the evening of 29 October as part of the Saudi state-sponsored festival’s opening night. In response, several users expressed their displeasure, criticizing the attendees for what they perceived as hypocrisy and insensitivity.
On the other hand, several users posted in favor of Saudi Arabia and the Riyadh Season, highlighting the Kingdom’s historic role in supporting the Palestinian cause and accusing critics of targeting Saudi Arabia during this difficult time.
— سعد شيبان #الـزلـزال الـسعـودي (@SAAD84_) October 30, 2023