Kuwaiti telecommunications giant Zain has found itself at the center of a social media storm following the release of a Ramadan commercial that aims to promote peace and tolerance.
The three-minute video featuring Emirati pop star Hussain Al-Jassmi has already exceeded 2.4 million views on Zain’s YouTube page and more than 4,000 shares on Facebook.
But it has found itself under attack because of its apparent reference to the case of the 5-year-old Syrian boy Omran Daqneesh.
The commercial, which was created by Joy Productions in Kuwait, features images from bombings across the region claimed by Al-Qaeda or Daesh.
It features footage of the 2016 Karrada bombing in Baghdad, in which more than 300 people lost their lives; the 2015 bombing of the Imam Al-Sadiq mosque in Kuwait; and the aftermath of an attack on a wedding in Amman that killed 36 people in 2005. Ibrahim Abdulsalam, who was injured in the Kuwait mosque blast, makes a brief appearance in the Zain commercial, as does Haidar Jabar Nema, who lost his son in the Baghdad bombing, and Nadia Al-Alami, the bride at the wedding in Amman.
However, the young boy Daqneesh — who grabbed the world’s attention when he was photographed sitting dazed and bloodied in the back of an ambulance in Aleppo — survived an airstrike by Syrian or Russian planes, according to reports at the time, and not an attack by Daesh militants. This has led to the (Arabic) hashtag #zaindistortsthetruth quickly appearing on Twitter.
“The Zain advert uses the child Omran’s picture as a victim of a jihadist group, thereby hiding the crimes of Assad and the regime and exploiting the image of victims to benefit their murderer,” wrote Ahmed Abazeid on Twitter. “This ad is with terror not against it.”
Also on Twitter, Lina Shamy posted a video in which she said Zain was exploiting the suffering of the Syrian people. “You forgot about the main terrorist, the man wearing a suit,” she said. “If you only want to see bearded men as terrorists in Syria that’s up to you. But for you to use the image of Omran is an additional crime… We demand that Zain apologizes publicly and officially to the Syrian people who have suffered so much in their quest for freedom.”
Zakaria Nassani, a Dubai-based news producer, went a step further, demanding that the commercial be removed. “Omran, like thousands of children, is a victim of Assad terror and not ISIS,” he wrote, using ‘ISIS’ as another name for the terror group Daesh. “We demand that Zain… remove your ad.” Zain did not immediately respond to a request for comment when contacted by Arab News.
There has also been widespread praise for the commercial, with many lauding its message of love. The words “Worship your God with love, not terror” are central to the ad, which depicts a would-be suicide bomber being confronted by the faithful.
Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, a commentator on Arab affairs, wrote: “What a beautiful ad on counter violence & extremism. Only Kuwait could do this.”
Tahaab Rais, regional head of strategic planning at advertising agency FP7/MENA, explained that brands that make a stand on important issues are bound to be applauded as well as vilified.
“The (Middle East and North Africa) region is often portrayed as a region of doom and gloom,” said Rais. “So, whenever a brand takes a stance against a societal or cultural issue, especially one that’s beyond its day-to-day job of selling its products or supporting its CSR (corporate social responsibility) strategy, it will attract attention. And it will have people who love it and people who vilify it. The latest Zain ad does just that.
“I posted the ad on my Facebook when it first came out and the range of comments have been pretty insightful, especially as everyone is entitled to their opinion on social media.
“What I found interesting on a professional level was the brand’s attempt to portray the region as a region of light against the doom and gloom surrounding it. It portrayed its people as believers in peace versus believers in violence. And what I felt was interesting on a personal level was the brand’s attempt to demonstrate, to the world, how the religion that is so misunderstood… is a religion that believes in peace, in conversations and in humanity — not in killing innocents, not in constant violence and not in inhumanity.
“Could the execution have been more accurate in certain situations, less playful... and less exploitative of certain situations? Definitely. Yes. And the creators should have paid more attention to the details that people have been offended by and criticized them on.
“Having said that, 2.4 million views (a lot of them organic), a good average time spent per views, 46,900 likes versus 3,500 dislikes and many shares, tells us that the message has resonated positively with the majority.
“The religion says that if one kills a man, it is as if that person has killed all of mankind. Guess what? A lot of people talking about the ad on my social media channels and via Facebook inbox messages are people from abroad who are applauding the brand for shining light upon the misrepresented religion and the misrepresented region. This aspect of influencing social commentary and misperceptions is what has helped this travel regionally and internationally.”
The Egyptian journalist Kareem Shaheen agreed. “I think it’s a bit simplistic and I don’t think they made the right call creatively with some elements of the ad and the dramatization of Omran Daqneesh (though I think the criticism based on the fact that he was wounded in a regime attack and not an attack by a terror group doesn’t make sense to me — I’m sure the team behind the ad knows this and made a deliberate point to equate all forms of terrorism against civilians),” he wrote on Facebook.
“I like that different elements of society are making an effort to creatively counter extremism. I like the emphasis on the victims of terrorism. I like the reclamation of ‘Allahu Akbar’ as being God is greater than your terrorism… I like the idea of a larger effort to ostracize extremist thought as incompatible with decency and modern society.”