MBC’s ‘Al-Asoof’ tells the untold story of the Makkah siege

Yagoub Al-Farrhan as Juhayman Al-Otaibi in the MBC historical drama ‘Al-Asoof.’ (Supplied)
Updated 23 September 2019

MBC’s ‘Al-Asoof’ tells the untold story of the Makkah siege

  • Arab drama explores the aftermath of one of Saudi Arabia’s most tumultuous events
  • Infamous Awakening movement 'turned life in Kingdom upside down,' director Ali Jaber tells Arab News

JEDDAH: As with any Arab drama series, a good storyline will always be the talk of majlis, or social gatherings. These days, the conversation might take place via Twitter or Instagram, but, nevertheless, it will remain a hot topic.

That was certainly the case with MBC’s “Al-Asoof” (“Winds of Change“), a historical drama that explored Saudi Arabia’s transition from its desert past to the regional powerhouse it has become today.

It was a story that all Saudis wanted to hear, with lingering questions many were asking: What changed in the Kingdom and why?

The series returned to television during Ramadan, with its second season debut depicting a watershed moment in Saudi history — the shift from a moderate to ultra-conservative ideology that followed Juhayman Al-Otaibi’s 1979 attack on Makkah’s  Holy Mosque.

The show focused on a Riyadh family during a time of social upheaval as it delved into the events surrounding the siege and its aftermath, including the infamous Awakening movement.

“Al-Asoof” was written by Abdulrahman Al-Wabil and directed by Muthanna Sobh. The cast included Naser Al-Gasabi, Abdul-Ellah Al-Sanani, Habib Al-Habib, Reem Abdullah and Yagoub Al-Farrhan.

The Dubai-based MBC Group is committed to providing content that “discusses important events and issues,” Ali Jaber, its director, told Arab News recently. “The second series of ‘Al-Asoof’ tackles a major historical event in Saudi Arabia ... an important process in the formation of the present society,” he said.

“The MBC Group wants to explore the reality of the audience’s life leading up to Al-Otaibi, who turned life in Saudi Arabia upside down, pushing the country and society to a more conservative way of life.”

“Al-Asoof” deals with major intellectual changes that took place in the Saudi capital during the past five decades, including some of the most controversial events in Saudi history. The series has drawn criticism mainly from conservatives, as veteran columnist Abdulrahman Al-Rashed pointed out in a 2018 column, entitled “Why the fight against Al-Asoof?” 

“Extremists are against it because they believe it is an attempt to destroy what they built during the following two decades, which they refer to as “the Awakening” — and they are right.”

University professor Fatma Zain told Arab News: “I’ve never been too keen on following shows during Ramadan, but ‘Al-Asoof’ told me a story I never lived through but felt the aftermath of when I returned from my studies in the US.

“I left Jeddah in the mid-1970s to pursue my university studies, just like many Saudis of my generation, and we never lived through the time when Al-Otaibi attacked the mosque. We heard the news on American news outlets, but never more than a few minutes on the subject. It was a confusing time for many of us,” she recalled.

“I saw the change after returning in the early 1980s. Though Jeddah was less conservative than the capital, we still felt it and saw hints of it. The religious police presence was more prominent than before and more women were covered up. After watching the show’s two seasons, I now know the story. I can make sense of it all.  The mere name (Juhayman Al-Otaibi) was taboo, and with time it was forgotten. But questions surrounding the terrorist attack still lingered.  ‘Al-Asoof’ provided answers that my generation needed and that the next generation can learn from.” 

Saudi actor and producer Yagoub Al-Farrhan, who played Al-Otaibi in the show’s second season, told Arab News that the series was relevant not only to his generation, but also to future generations.

“In an interview three years ago, I was asked about a character I wanted to play in a biography film. Funnily enough, I said Al-Otaibi,” said Al-Farrhan. “I gathered as much information as I could about his character and mindset, and tried to understand the mentality of someone prepared to commit such an act. That is something all extremists groups have in common, not to mention the narcissistic characteristics and similarities their leaders share.”

Al-Farrhan said that in his portrayal of Al-Otaibi he tried to show the fake religious charisma common among militants. He said that the absence of detailed information about the Makkah siege was a problem. But with help of memoirs written by Nasser Al-Hizaimi, a former member of the extremist group, along with videos and reports, he reached a point where he felt comfortable in the role.

“Al-Asoof” not only told the story of a major event that took place amid a difficult geopolitical climate, but also offered viewers an insight into the Kingdom’s changing society.

“It felt as if we were on a mission,” Al-Farrhan said. “We had many discussions along the way and ended up with all this love for those lost in this incident and other similar incidents, yet grateful for this amazing new era we live in now.”

Pilgrims to quarantine for 14 days after Hajj

More than 41,361 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests have been conducted in the past 24 hours. (SPA)
Updated 04 August 2020

Pilgrims to quarantine for 14 days after Hajj

  • COVID-19 cases in Saudi Arabia continue to fall, officials say

JEDDAH: Pilgrims who took part in this year’s Hajj must continue wearing electronic tags so authorities can track their 14-day quarantine once they return home.

The bracelet is designed to monitor pilgrims’ adherence to quarantine, as well as monitoring and recording their health status through the “Tatamman” app.
Pilgrims were required to quarantine before embarking on the Hajj and wore the bracelets to ensure they were obeying the self-isolation rules as part of strict measures to contain the spread of coronavirus.
The country continues to experience a decline in COVID-19 cases. Recorded infections remain below the 2,000 mark for the 10th day in a row. The Kingdom reported 1,258 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, raising the number of those infected to 280,093 so far.
There are currently 35,091 active cases and six patients were admitted to critical care units, raising the number to 2,017. There were 32 new fatalities, raising the death toll to 2,949.
There were 1,972 new recoveries recorded, raising the total number of recoveries to 242,053.
More than 41,361 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests have been conducted in the past 24 hours. The total number of PCR tests conducted to date exceeds 3.47 million.


280,093 COVID-19 cases

242,053 Recoveries

35,091 Active cases

2,949 Total deaths

3.47m PCR tests

The Ministry of Health has been carrying out daily visits to health institutions in order to assess their level of commitment to anti-coronavirus measures, such as ensuring that staff adhere to social distancing, wear masks, and adopt the health practices and crisis management mechanisms recommended by authorities to protect patients and staff.
Teams have been dispatched to supervise the compliance of health facilities’ quarantine centers across Saudi Arabia and stepped up their visits to government and private hospitals to ensure their compliance with health protocols, sample transfers and staff testing as well as ensuring that all routine surgeries are stopped.
More than 5,000 violations have been recorded and violators were referred to committees. More than 150 facilities were temporarily shut down by the ministry until the proper protocols were implemented and the violations were fixed. A number of institutions were able to resume operations after settling fines.