Lebanon’s cultural and artistic scene was left in shock on Friday after the arrest of renowned artist Ziad Itani on suspicion of collaborating with Israel.
A Lebanese security source told Asharq Al-Awsat that Itani made a complete confession to the international security agency.
He said that he was recruited by Israeli intelligence and that he had met in Turkey with an Israeli intelligence officer. He had even booked a room in the al-Bustan Hotel for the female officer, who was supposed to arrive in Beirut with a foreign passport. He also confessed to receiving money transfers from the agent.
Sources said that Itani was tasked with following Lebanese figures, including Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq and former MP Abdul Rahim Murad. To that end, he established close ties with Murad’s son and one of the minister’s aides.
On claims that the surveillance was aimed at assassinating those figures, the security source said that President Michel Aoun contacted Mahsnouq to “congratulate him on his safety,” which indicates that the intention was his murder.
In a telephone call to Asharq Al-Awsat, the playwright and director of Itani’s plays, Yehya Jaber said that he was “shocked like all Lebanese people after hearing the news.”
“Like everyone else, I am following the news and social media. I am speechless and in shock,” he continued.
He revealed that Itani, whom he has worked closely with for four years, was arrested at Teatro Verdun on Thursday as he was practicing one of his works.
Itani hails from a well-known artistic family from Beirut. His father was the late Mohammed Shamel and theater actor Hassan Alaeddine, better known as Shoushou, was also a relative.
A son of Beirut’s Tarik al-Jadideh area, Itani originally started off as a journalist, writing for several newspapers and websites. He also took part in television programs. He made the transition to theater in 2013, with “Beirut Tarik al-Jadideh”, which skyrocketed him to fame after its massive success.
It went on a record run of three years, selling some 35,000 tickets. A collaboration with renowned poet, playwright and director, Jaber, the play, performed by Itani, presented the traditions of Beirut, the Lebanese capital that is dear to his heart.
Itani followed up this success with “Beirut Fawq al-Shajara”, which depicted a tailor from Beirut and tackled Lebanese political changes and the country’s ties with Arab nations.
“Beirut Beit Byout” was the latest work before his arrest. He last performed it on October 12.
Itani had participated in the Beiteddine Festival in 2015 and made a brief stint on a comedy show that aired on local LBCI television.
Itani had a unique ability to address sensitive sectarian and confessional topics in a comedic and satirical style that made him accessible to the people.
Ironically, a few days ago, he posted on his social media accounts a post related to Lebanon’s Independence Day, which was celebrated on Wednesday.
He posted a photograph of one of his relatives Ibrahim bin Misbah al-Itani, who was killed in 1947 during an independence struggle against French mandate rule in Lebanon. The late Itani had waged a campaign to storm parliament to raise the Lebanese flag there.