Wahib Al Husseini

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Syrian Histories,
Original Interview Length:
Interview Location: Turkey
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“Some of our greatest artists had started gaining fame. Everyone was motivated to work hard, and that resulted in the most beautiful works produced by Syrian television."

Wahib Al Husseini grew up in al-Hasakah Governorate, where he also went to school. He later majored in Fine Arts at Damascus University.
After graduating, Wahib worked for Syrian TV as a set designer alongside the head of department. This was around 1962. "During that period, I met many artists from Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq, as well as Syrian actors. Some of our greatest artists such as Duraid Lahham, Nihad Kalai and Rafiq Subaie had started gaining fame. Everyone was motivated to work hard, and that resulted in the most beautiful works produced by Syrian television," says Wahib.
After about a year and a half of working in television, Wahib received a job offer in Kuwait. So, he took an extended period of unpaid leave to work for Kuwait Television for around four years. He then returned to Syria for a few months. It was to be his last visit to Syria due to the change in the country’s political situation, he says.
In the course of his work, Wahib met journalists and editors and began drawing cartoons for independent newspapers. He was also appointed by the Kuwait Cultural Office to participate in cultural festivals both outside and inside Kuwait as a set designer. Wahib designed the décor of the first Kuwaiti theatrical production.
After eight years of working at Kuwait Television, Wahib founded a private decorating company in partnership with a well-known Kuwaiti doctor. He then worked on some projects in the Iraqi city of Basra. He kept moving between Kuwait and Iraq until he finally settled and bought a house in Baghdad. “In the 1970s, Iraq witnessed major advances and openness in all areas of life including culture, science, and services among others," he says.
All business and services ceased after the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980, so Wahib bought a farm and practiced his hobby of collecting antique cars. His collection reached 30 cars, which he stored in his own garage in the city of Mosul.
In 1982, Wahib and his family moved to London for a few years during which time he worked as a political cartoonist for several newspapers and magazines. He criticized Khamenei’s regime in Iran, and the Syrian regime that supported him during his war with Iraq. This exposed him to threats from actors affiliated with the Syrian regime. “My Syrian passport had expired, but I couldn’t get it renewed due to my constant criticism of the Syrian regime. In addition, the family did not adapt to London’s cold weather and the social environment that was different from that of Arab society. So, we returned to Iraq in 1988, and I applied for Iraqi citizenship," he says.
Wahib obtained Iraqi citizenship, which helped him move between Iraq and Jordan and to go back to working in theater design. He also worked with some newspapers and magazines, including Jordan Sheehan.
He continued to travel between Iraq and Jordan for a long time. He preferred to work for opposition newspapers, criticizing any imbalance or suppression of freedoms by the Israeli occupation, the abuse in Arab countries, or the Palestinian Authority.
Wahib lived in the United Arab Emirates for some time, where he worked as a technical consultant for Sheikh Khalid Bin Zayed in the field of design. After the American war on Iraq in 2003, he decided to put all his businesses into liquidation and return to Syria, hoping for a general amnesty for opposition members and wishing to settle in his country among his family and relatives. As such, he closed down his businesses in Iraq and crossed the border to Syria with his family, and with the help of an acquaintance in the border city of ​​Husaybah, defied potential danger. Upon their arrival in Syria, a security patrol led them to a security branch in the city of Deir ez-Zor, where they were received with open arms. Wahib was then taken to Damascus, but in a respectful and decent manner, he says.
He arrived at the security branch in Damascus and refused to stay in the overcrowded detention cells. The officer in charge of the branch, Ali Makhlouf, was very helpful and allocated a separate cell to Iraqis, and gave orders that all their demands were to be met.
Wahib was detained for 10 days and interrogated several times. "When asked about my opinion of President Saddam Hussein in a provocative manner by the investigating officer, I gathered all my strength and replied that he was a national leader, whether we liked it or not,” he says. “After saying that, all officers started treating me with respect.”
After he was released, Wahib tried to obtain a Syrian passport, but he was wanted by several security branches, including the Palestine branch, so did not pursue it. He also refused any mediation offered by some of his relatives who worked for the regime.
“My life was full of risks,” says Wahib. “I feel very happy because I was able to leave my personal mark and be among the first to stand against this ruling family in Syria.”