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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 22:17 GMT
Bin Laden - the play
Hisham Yanis imitates Yasser Arafat, while Mohammed Swedan plays Bin Laden
The satire pokes fun at Bin Laden and Yasser Arafat
By the BBC's Caroline Hawley in Amman

As the Americans continue their hunt for Osama Bin Laden, the world's most wanted man is inspiring a rare glimmer of humour. A musical satire by a Jordanian-Palestinian ridicules the Saudi militant and his vision of Islam.

The show - being performed twice a week in the Jordanian capital Amman - was written by actor/director Hisham Yanes who has previously impersonated Arab leaders and taken on other sensitive subjects.

An actor plays Taleban spiritual leader Mullah Omar
Taleban spiritual leader Mullah Omar also features
These include Jordan's normalisation of relations with Israel, and the concept of Arab honour and shame.

Yanes' Bin Laden - complete with long beard and fatigue jacket - promises that the Americans will not eat pizzas in peace until the Palestinians can eat their own national dish, musakhan.

He tells the audience that he is ready to travel to Washington to hand himself over to US President George Bush but on one condition - "You come with me and I fly the plane!"

I make fun of him so that no one takes him seriously

Hisham Yanes, actor-director

In the final scene, he has to pull out of the Arab version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire because he can't answer a question on whether a $25m dollar reward might tempt someone to surrender him.

"I make fun of him so that no one takes him seriously," says Mr Yanes. "Some people here see him as a kind of saviour but he isn't. What he wants is dangerous. He wants to divide the world into camps and he has a vision of Islam that I don't want my daughter to grow up with."


But not everyone in Jordan believes Bin Laden should be the subject of mockery.

An Islamist sheikh has said Mr Yanes deserves 80 lashes for his treatment of the Saudi militant.

"Seventy per cent laugh," says Mr Yanes. "But others say the man is a religious man. I reply that he is a politician. They say that he defied America."

Yanes replies that he is not doing it in the right way.

Most Arab people support Bin Laden, not in attacking the twin towers but in fighting against the interest of the Americans and Israel

Yussef Abu Hileleh, poet
The playwright acknowledges that Bin Laden's popularity derives from Arab frustration over the situation in the Palestinian territories, poverty, Arab disunity, and the legacy of colonialism.

"Now people are waiting for a messiah, a liberator, a Jesus, a Saladin," says Mr Yanes.

"Bin Laden is playing with their dreams."

In the impoverished town of Maan, in southern Jordan, Bin Laden has his hero-worshippers.

'Lion of the Gulf'

The poem recited by the Saudi-born militant on a recent videotape was penned by a resident of Maan, Yussef Abu Hileleh, who knew Bin Laden from the 20 years Mr Abu Hileleh spent working in Saudi Arabia as a teacher of Islamic culture.

An actor playing Bin Laden dances with one of the actresses
About 70% of people laugh at the portrayal of Bin Laden
Since 11 September, Mr Abu Hileleh has written another poem dedicated to Osama Bin Laden entitled "The Lion of the Gulf". It hails Bin Laden as a great and free man whose "good deeds are innumerable" and who rejects shame.

"You were trying to kill the despair in us," Mr Abu Hileleh writes.

Mr Abu Hileleh, a 53-year old with a bushy beard and traditional robes, is generous and hospitable to a visiting Westerner.

He does not believe that Bin Laden wanted to kill innocent people. "Most Arab people support him, not in attacking the twin towers but in fighting against the interests of the Americans and Israel," he says.

"Everyone supports Osama Bin Laden," says the mother of 17-year-old Suleiman Fanatseh, who died in police custody, after he had been arrested with a picture of Bin Laden in a notebook in his pocket. "He's a Muslim."

For the Jordanian authorities, too, though for different reasons, Bin Laden is no laughing matter.

His al-Qaeda network is suspected of having plotted to assassinate King Abdullah while he was on his summer holiday, and of trying to blow up tourist facilities in Jordan.

Eleven al-Qaeda members are currently on trial in the Kingdom.

"I think the threat is obviously less right now," says Jordan's information minister, Muhammad Adwan. "But we're always concerned about any organisation that tries to incite terror or trouble in our country."

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