Lebanese Composer Banned From Saudi Arabia After Online Comments Supporting Hezbollah

A Lebanese singer and composer known for his strong opinions was deported from Saudi Arabia after a 50-day detention because of voicing his support online for Lebanon's president and Hezbollah.

Samir Sfeir, who had been living in Saudi Arabia for five years, said he is banned from returning over political statements. "I was bothered by the manner. I wish they just told me to leave and not come back. I would have done it," Sfeir said.

Sfeir's arrest has raised concerns in his home country of Lebanon, where Lebanon's traditional ally Saudi Arabia has been using increased pressure, rather than assistance, against Hezbollah's domination. While not charged, Sfeir said he was held as "a political prisoner" and questioned on political issues, including his links to Hezbollah and Lebanese President Michel Aoun.

Saudi Arabia gave no comment on the reasons and conditions of Sfeir's detention and release.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Hezbollah flag
Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah wave flags in the Lebanese border village of Adaisseh on May 25 to mark the 21st anniversary of the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon. Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP via Getty Images

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 AP in a telephone call that he is holding no grudge.

"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.

Only last month, the kingdom barred all fresh produce 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.

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, labeled a terrorist group by the United States and other Gulf countries.

Sfeir said he was the victim of an online smear campaign that used his old tweets and TV comments which he claimed 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 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 alleged 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. "They asked me many questions.... They said I am not allowed to be offensive to any Arab country."

Michel Aoun speaks
President of Lebanon Michel Aoun addresses the U.N. General Assembly on September 25, 2019. Drew Angerer/Getty Images