Lebanese singer deported from Saudi after 50-day detention

Lebanese singer deported from Saudi after 50-day detention
Samir Sfeir said he was deported from Saudi Arabia after a 50-day detention because of opinions expressed online in support of Lebanese president Michael Aoun and his ally, the Iran-backed Hezbollah.
4 min read
Sfeir said he was forgiving of the Saudi authorities [Getty]

A prominent Lebanese singer and composer known for his vitriolic political views said he has been deported from Saudi Arabia after a 50-day detention — mostly in solitary confinement — because of opinions expressed online in support of Lebanon’s president and his ally, the Iran-backed Hezbollah.

Samir Sfeir arrived in Beirut Thursday from Saudi Arabia. He looked haggard and grizzled— having lost his trademark long black bob. He also said he was forgiving of the authorities in Saudi Arabia, telling The Associated Press in a telephone call that he is holding no grudge.

Sfeir, who had residency in the Kingdom for five years, said he is now banned from returning.

“I was bothered by the manner. I wish they just told me to leave and not come back. I would have done it,” he said.

Sfeir said he was “a political prisoner” in the Kingdom and his captors only questioned him on political issues, including his links to Hezbollah and President Michel Aoun. No charges were pressed, he said.

“My investigator told me that I am making political statements,” Sfeir said. “In their system, they don’t have such thing. They disapproved.”

After several interrogation sessions by different Saudi investigators, Sfeir was released and sent to Lebanon. Other than solitary confinement, Sfeir said he was treated respectfully. His wife, Marie, told a local TV station that Sfeir refused to eat in the first days of his detention and didn’t have his medicine.

There was no official comment from Saudi Arabia about the reasons and conditions of his detention and release.

Sfeir’s detention raised concerns at home that he was the latest victim of rising tension between Lebanon and its traditional ally, Saudi Arabia, which has increasingly used pressure, instead of assistance, in dealing with the small Mediterranean country where the Iran-back Hezbollah dominates.

Only last month, the kingdom barred all fresh producing arriving from Lebanon from entering Saudi Arabia after drug smuggling was found in such shipments. It was a sharp measure that dealt a major blow to one of the main sources of foreign currency to the embattled Mediterranean country.

Read more: Lebanon asks Saudi Arabia to reconsider produce ban after drug smuggling case

Tension between the two regional powerhouses — Saudi Arabia and Iran — often translated into a deadlock in decision-making in Lebanese politics. Saudi Arabia, which is seeking new allies in Lebanon, has imposed sanctions on Hezbollah, labelled a terrorist group by the United States and other Gulf countries.

Sfeir said he was victim of an online smear campaign that used his old tweets and TV comments which were misrepresented to appear offensive to the kingdom. Sfeir said his investigators viewed some of his statements as offensive to Lebanon’s army.

Sfeir is known for his aggressive political statements in the media and on other platforms to criticize opponents of Aoun, and has expressed his unwavering support to Hezbollah as a defender of the country’s unity. He said the smear campaign was launched after he posted a picture of himself receiving a vaccine in Saudi Arabia — something his detractors thought he did not deserve.

“Social media and electronic flies (armies) are ruining things,” he said.

Sfeir, who in the past engaged in online arguments and real-life spats with colleagues and reporters, was uncharacteristically calm upon his return Thursday, telling local media the 50-day confinement had changed his life, forcing him to review his strong political views that distracted him from music and art.

“They asked me many questions... They said, I am not allowed to be offensive to any Arab country.”