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Popular Ramadan series 'defends homosexuality', sparking 'outrage' in Saudi Arabia

The drama has already caused controversy this month [Twitter]

Date of publication: 5 May, 2020

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Saudi Twitter users were left outraged this week after a popular Ramadan drama series 'defended homosexuality'.
A conversation about homosexuality in a popular Saudi series aired during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan has caused outrage online, just days after the same television drama prompted anger related to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

In a scene broadcast on Saudi MBC channel’s 'Exit 7', two of the main characters discussed the topic of homosexuality, with one defending the rights of the LGBTQ community.

"They are a group that exists in Saudi society and we should leave them alone," the character os Saudi actress Aseel Omran said.

The simple conversation, and the defence of gay rights, was a little too much for Saudi Arabia’s conservative society, many of whom shared their thoughts online.

"Today's episode was an embarrassment that did not even respect the sanctity of Ramadan," one Twitter user said.

"What exactly are you trying to convey when touching on this topic, Nasser Al-Qasabi?" another user said, directing the message to the star of the Saudi series.

Homosexuality is still illegal across most parts of the Arab world, and in some cases, including Saudi Arabia, is punishable by death.

This year’s Exit 7 series has already been heavily criticised after the second episode last week attacked Palestinians and encouraged normalisation with Israel.

Episode 2 of series "Exit 7 brings together superstar Saudi actors Nasser Al-Qasabi and Rashid Al-Shamrani in a scene which sees them discuss dealing with Israelis for business expansion purposes.

Al-Qasabi’s character shuts down the debate noting "Israelis are enemies", only to be told "the real enemy is the one who shows no gratitude for your stance, dismisses your sacrifices and curses you day and night, more than the Israelis".

Al-Shamrani's character continues to say: "We entered wars for the sake of Palestine, we cut oil for Palestine and the day it became an authority, we paid its salaries even though we [the Saudi people] have more right over this money. Yet they take every opportunity to attack Saudi Arabia."

Read also: Is Netflix taking part in Israel's propaganda 'Hasbara' campaign?

The clip was quickly shared across social media with pro-Palestine activists across the board outraged over Saudi Arabia's attempt to "manipulate millions" in its ongoing bid to normalise relations with Israel.

"This entire episode was a clear attempt to normalise the audience's minds over Israel, which was repeated more than 30 times in a frame of 30 minutes in episode 2 of this series," Palestinian author and media professor, Dr Nawaf Tamimi told The New Arab.

"In another scene, a mother does not see a problem with her son playing with an Israeli boy online - presenting the concept of normalisation as one that is debatable rather than forbidden, as is traditionally the case.

"During the entirety of the episode, the same discourse is repeated and allegations, including 'Palestinians sold their land to Israel' and 'Israel’s existence is a fact and is part of the status quo'.

"This is just part of the growing systemic discourse adopted by the advocates of Israeli normalisation in the ‘new’ Saudi Arabia," Tamimi added, noting that the inclusion of the debate in a popular Ramadan series is a deliberate and calculated attempt to reach the masses.

The controversial topics come amid Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s drive to shed the kingdom’s ultra-conservative image by relaxing some rules on entertainment and social norms.

Last year, Saudi Arabia lifted a ban on women driving and opened cinemas and music concerts to the public.

The royal has also launched an unprecedented crackdown on human and women's rights activists, including the jailing of Loujain Al-Hathloul who has been tortured during her detention.

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