The Inspiration for ‘The Dictator’


In his new film The DictatorSacha Baron Cohen plays “a dictator who risked his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed.”

While The Dictator was in production, the film was rumored to be based on an Iraqi novel called Zabibah and the King. Zabibah was published anonymously, but most Iraqi citizens–as well as the C.I.A.–believed that its author was none other than Saddam Hussein.

 is an allegorical tale about a love affair between a medieval ruler of Iraq and a peasant-woman, Zabibah, who’s abused by her husband. Zabibah is a stand-in for the Iraqi people, and the king who rescues her is meant to be Hussein. Two of the novel’s antagonists, a wicked prince named Hezkel and Samil, a merchant, are meant to represent Israel and the Jews, according to Middle East Quarterly.

The New York Times said definitively that The Dictator was not based on Zabibah–and, in fact, that the rumor was probably started by Cohen and his camp. Whether Zabibah will make an appearance in the film is unclear. One thing is more or less certain: Were he alive, Hussein would probably be less than pleased by a smart-alec Jewish satirist adapting his novel.

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