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Saudi TV series about Islamic history triggers Iraq’s sectarian divide

The Saudi-based MBC media group’s announcement that it would broadcast a TV series about a controversial figure in Islamic history, Mu'awiya bin Abi Sufyan, has faced strong backlash from Shiites in Iraq and the region.  
Shiite Muslim pilgrims gather to pray at the shrine of the 8th-century Imam Musa al-Kadhim in the Kadhimiya district, north of Baghdad, on February 17, 2023. (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images)

MBC Media Group has announced a drama series about Mu'awiya bin Abi Sufyan, the first Umayyad caliph, during the upcoming Islamic month of Ramadan, set to begin in about 20 days. The Saudi media conglomerate's decision has faced massive criticism in Iraq and other countries with large Shiite communities, due to the Shiite belief that Mu'awiya was an enemy to Islam. 

Iraq’s government media watchdog, the Communication and Media Commission, warned MBC Iraq, which is a part of MBC group, that the show went against the country’s regulations. Consequently, MBC Iraq announced that it will not broadcast the series. However, other MBC channels will broadcast it due to commitments with the producer. MBC is currently referring to it as "Mu'awiya," but the official name will be released before it airs. The series, directed by Tarek Alarian, cost nearly $100 million and took over two years to produce. It features several well-known Arab actors, including Lujain Ismail (playing Mu'awiya), Iyad Nassar (Imam Ali), Suhair bin Amara (Hind, Mu'awiya's mother) and Wael Sharaf (Amr Aas).

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