Saudi Executioner Moonlights As Actor
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
In recent years the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has come under increased scrutiny. While the oil rich nation remains a powerful ally of the United States, human rights activists have criticized Saudi Arabia for its treatment of women, lack of press freedoms and export of Wahhabism, an extremist and intolerant form of Islam. The absolute monarchy has also been condemned by Amnesty International for its high numbers of executions, particularly of foreign workers, through the use of public beheading and stoning. While many in the international community condemn the practices of Saudi Arabia, the executioners themselves regard their work as “just another job”. Abu Lahab, a Riyadh based executioner told us “I don’t really plan on being an executioner forever. Really, deep down, I’ve always wanted to be an actor”.
Brandishing an imposing and resplendent Scimitar blade he referred to as “the Sultan” Abu Lahab, a born thespian, first got the acting bug when he saw Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer. “I’m going to sound like such a nerd right now” he says polishing his sword, “but I was a total theater kid. In between Islamic Education at the local madrassa, I’d put on my own productions of South Pacific and Rent”. And so a star was born. It didn’t take long for Abu Lahab to try his luck in the big city, picking up a small time gig as an executioner while he followed his dream.
“I’m still waiting for my big break” Abu Lahab says “but for now being an executioner pays the bills and the flexible hours allow me to go to auditions, plus the job gives me a lot of opportunities to network and make connections. If Allah wills it, I just might get a job as understudy for the role of Nathan Detroit in an upcoming production of Guys and Dolls”. As Abu Lahab crossed his fingers a member of the mutawa, the Saudi religious police, viciously berated a woman for roaming the streets without a male chaperone. “Only in Riyadh” Abu Lahab enthused “to tell you the truth, I love this city!”
However, the constant hustling and workplace obligations can be difficult to balance, but Abu Lahab manages it beautifully.
“If there is one thing this job has taught me, it’s how to deal with difficult people and that is so important in show business where you have to develop a thick skin. For instance, once a woman was arrested for sorcery and she was taken to the public square to be executed. I was having a really hard time memorizing my lines for a monologue I was preparing. Anyway, this woman’s head just wouldn’t come off no matter how hard I hacked at it! When I finally succeeded in the task the blood gushed out like a fountain. For a long time I had nightmares, but those went away just like my stage fright, Allah be praised”.
Despite his passion for theater, Abu Lahab is well liked by his peers who consider him a hard-worker and team player. Prince Turki al-Faisal, former director of Saudi intelligence commented, “he delineates the line between playfulness and ruthlessness. When the heads are ripe and there is harvesting to be done he is most suited for the role”. Above all he is respected for his professionalism, always showing up early for executions, abiding by the oft-quoted theater maxim “if you’re not five minutes early, you’re five minutes late”.
Before we left Rihadh and said farewell to Abu Lahab we noticed that he was in even better spirits than usual. It turned out that while he was turned down for a lead role in Guys and Dolls he had been offered the part of Angie the Ox, a development Lahab savored for the exposure it would bring him. “The skies the limit, habibi. I’m going straight for the top. A lot of people don’t know this, but Omar Sherif started out as an executioner. I’m headed for the big time, but what I really want to do is direct”. For now though, Lahab will keep his day job to make ends meet, proving that there are no small parts, only small executioners.
Editors note: after publication of this article Abu Lahab was arrested by the Commission of Promoting Virtue and Preventing Vice.