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Gulf Arab states have launched a rare, coordinated campaign against streaming giant Netflix, calling on it to remove “offensive” material as they seek to regulate television content produced outside their jurisdiction.
Saudi Arabia issued a statement on Tuesday on behalf of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, saying the bloc has asked Netflix to take down programming that violates Islamic values, including some content directed at children.
The United Arab Emirates, which issued its own statement, said that Netflix violated local regulations and “contradicts the country’s societal value.” Its media watchdog would be monitoring Netflix’s content “from now on” and will take action if local laws are flouted.
The statements didn’t specify what content was causing offense but Saudi state-run Al Ekhbariya news channel on Tuesday ran segments condemning the streaming service for “promoting sexual deviance” to children, in an apparent reference to homosexuality.
“Pay a monthly fee to Netflix, and your child gets to watch this immoral content,” the voice-over says, as a blurred scene apparently showing a same-sex embrace from “Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous” is played with ominous music in the background. It cited social media campaigns calling for the banning of Netflix.
Gulf states have said that their grievance with the streaming service has to do with content that violates social norms, but Saudi Arabia has in the past demanded the removal of politically sensitive content too. In 2019, Netflix obliged the kingdom by removing an episode of “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj” that mocked the kingdom.
Netflix at the time defended its decision as a response to a “valid legal request,” adding that it nonetheless does “strongly support artistic freedom,” according to the Financial Times. Netflix didn’t respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Censorship was not uncommon in Arab countries when TV viewing was dominated by state-run channels. The arrival of streaming TV, however, eroded governments’ ability to police content and heralded an era of Arabic television production outside the censors’ purview that has often caused controversy for breaking social taboos.
According to Joseph Fahim, an Egyptian film critic, the effect of streaming services in the Middle East was akin to that of satellite TV several decades ago, when viewership moved away from terrestrial channels showing government-approved content. “There was a lot more freedom in this content,” he told CNN.
Other global media companies have been less receptive to Gulf Arab states’ calls to restrict content that doesn’t suit their social norms. American film studios that previously complied with Arab censors’ requests for cuts to their movies have been refusing to do so of late, leading to those movies being banned in Arab countries.
Disney reportedly rejected cutting LGBTQ scenes more than once this year, but its streaming service, Disney+ told Hollywood Reporter that content would “align with local regulatory requirements.”
Gulf states have increased the policing of LGBTQ-related displays of late. Several global brands that publicly supported gay rights during Pride Month in June were targets of boycott campaigns on social media. In June, Kuwait’s foreign ministry summoned a US diplomat stationed there over tweets “supporting homosexuality”.
The UAE, home to a large number of expatriates and one of the most liberal of the Gulf states, was among the countries that banned Disney movie “Lightyear” in June. The New York Times then reported that Amazon was pressured to restrict items and search results related to LGBTQ people.
Netflix operates in an increasingly crowded streaming-services market in the Middle East. Among its rivals are Disney+, which launched regionally in June, as well as regional services such as OSN+, Shahid and Starz Play.
Fahim suggested that competition may also be a motivation for turning up the heat on Netflix. It sends the message “that if you want to make a decent, acceptable and widely shared experience, you have to go to regional streamers,” he told CNN. “It’s almost like this statement is waging the war against Netflix.”
The Middle Eastern streaming market, while relatively small for the likes of Netflix, is on a growth trend. Digital TV Research forecasts that paying subscribers on streaming services in the region are set to more than double to 21.5 million between 2021 and 2027, with Netflix leading the market.
Turkey’s Erdogan says West’s ‘provocative’ policies towards Russia not correct
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday he didn’t think the West’s “provocative” policies towards Russia were correct after the European Union proposed a price cap on Russian gas, Reuters reported.
- Background: President Vladimir Putin had earlier threatened to halt all supplies if the EU took such a step, raising the risk of rationing in some of the world’s richest countries this winter. Separately, Putin said on Wednesday that isolating Russia would be “impossible and the Moscow would seek business opportunities in the Middle East.
- Why it matters: The war in Ukraine has left Turkey juggling ties between NATO allies and its neighbor Russia. Turkey has not placed sanctions on Russia but has called for an end to the war and sold drones to Ukraine.
OPEC agrees to cut production after oil price slump
OPEC said Monday it would reduce oil production next month by 100,000 barrels per day, the cartel’s first output cut since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, as it braces for a global economic slowdown to hit demand.
- Background: Just a month ago, OPEC and allied oil exporters agreed to increase production in September by the same small amount — equivalent to about 0.1% of global demand – after coming under intense pressure from the United States and other big oil consumers to do more to bring down energy prices and inflation. In August, Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman told Bloomberg News that the oil market’s recent “volatility” may force OPEC+ to cut production.
- Why it matters: A drop of more than 20% in global oil prices since the beginning of June has producers focused on the risk that a sharp economic slowdown in China, the US and Europe will sap demand for their crude. Analysts are calling the oil cut “symbolic”, with one expert saying that the alliance is “sending a signal to the market that OPEC+ is serious about cuts.”
Palestinian man killed, 16 others wounded by Israeli troops in Jenin demolition operation
A Palestinian man was killed and 16 others were wounded in an Israeli military operation in the West Bank city of Jenin, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said Tuesday.
- Background: The Israel Defense Forces were in Jenin “in order to demolish the residence of the terrorist who killed three people in a deadly shooting attack in Tel Aviv the night of April 7, 2022,” the IDF said in a statement, adding that “a violent riot was instigated” during the operation. “The rioters burned tires, hurled rocks, Molotov cocktails and explosive devices at the forces, who responded with riot dispersal means,” the IDF said. The 16 wounded Palestinians were injured with bullets and shrapnel, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, and all were transferred to the hospital in Jenin. The ministry identified the dead man as 29-year-old Mohammad Sabaaneh.
- Why it matters: The clashes took place in the same West Bank city where Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed during an IDF raid in May. The IDF admitted for the first time on Monday there was a “high possibility” that its troops fired the fatal shot. A senior IDF official said the soldier thought he was firing at Palestinian militants – although Abu Akleh was wearing a flak jacket marked Press – and that the soldier was “sorry.” Israel’s military prosecutor said it would not pursue criminal charges against the soldier, who was not named.
Around the region
Istanbul residents expressed outrage on social media amid rumors that one of the ancient city’s historic icons had been quietly demolished by the government.
Maiden’s Tower, known as the pearl of the Bosphorus, has been closed and covered with tarpaulins for a year due to restoration work.
The controversy started when a video posted on Twitter suggested that the tower had been demolished. In the video, ships can be seen passing behind the tower through holes in the tarpaulins, giving the impression that no structure exists in the tower’s place.
The Directorate of Cultural Heritage and Museums in Turkey responded by saying the concrete components and cone part of the building that were added after a fire in 1940 had been removed “by adhering to the principles of universal protection” in order to increase its earthquake resistance.
It also shared a render of how the tower would look like when restoration is completed in 2023, more than one year later than initially planned. Once the restoration is completed, the building that hosted a restaurant until recently will serve as a museum, it said.
There are many legends about the origins of the tower. The best-known one is about the Byzantine Emperor Konstantinus, who upon being warned by a fortune teller that his daughter would die due to a snake bite, had the tower built on the Bosphorus, and locked her up there to protect her. Legend has it that a snake hidden in one of the fruit baskets that the emperor sent to his daughter eventually took her life.
By Isil Sariyuce
This week marks 50 years since Palestinian militants from the Black September group took members of the Israeli Olympic team hostage during the Munich Games of 1972, in an attack that came to be known as the Munich massacre.
Eight armed men broke into the West German city’s Olympic village and held members of the Israeli team hostage in their apartment. A coach and an athlete were killed in the initial moments of the attack. Nine were held hostage.
The group conditioned the release of the hostages on the freeing of over 200 prisoners in Israeli and West German jails. Israel’s prime minister at the time refused. In a failed rescue attempt by West German police, all Israeli hostages were killed by the militants. Five of the militants were also killed by the police. Three were caught later.
In the following days, Israel retaliated by launching airstrikes in Syria and Lebanon on the bases of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which was linked to Black September. Israel is said to have killed as many as 200 people in the operation, including scores of militants, but also innocent civilians and children.
In the subsequent month, Palestinian militants hijacked a German plane, demanding the release of the three surviving terrorists. Germany complied, and they were freed.
Security spending was 50 times higher in the subsequent 1976 games in Montreal, Canada. Israel initiated Operation Wrath of God aimed at assassinating those involved in the Munich massacre. The operation lasted around 20 years and allegedly led to the killing of two of the three surviving terrorists. It was the subject of an Oscar-nominated 2005 film directed by Steven Spielberg.
This week, the President of Germany formally apologized for failing to keep the Israeli hostages safe. Last month, the families of the Israeli athletes struck a deal with Germany on increased compensation and accountability for the attacks.
By Mohammed Abdelbary