Now, two taboo-busting series during the holy fasting month —- the peak television season —- has fuelled speculation that Riyadh is trying to openly normalize closer ties with the Jewish state. Observers, however, say the shows may be an attempt to normalize the debate on normalization. A surge in tensions between Tehran and Riyadh and Saudi attempts to attract foreign investment to fund its ambitious Vision 2030 economic reforms appear to be pushing the kingdom closer to Israel than ever.
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Arab states including Saudi Arabia have no official diplomatic ties with Israel, but both sides are pursuing what one thinks tank calls a “tepid dance” to furtively build relations on the basis of shared animosity towards Iran. A young character in “Exit 7“, which depicts the journey of a middle-class family through a rapidly modernizing Saudi Arabia, raised eyebrows when he befriended an Israeli boy through an online video game.
“These shows are useful for the Saudi state to understand where people stand on Israel and Palestine,” said Aziz Alghashian, a lecturer at Essex University specializing in the kingdom’s foreign policy towards Israel.
“The Saudis recognize the important role that Israel plays in the region,” said Marc Schneier, an American rabbi with close ties to the kingdom and the Gulf.
In another controversial scene, one of the Saudi characters justifies establishing trade ties with Israel, arguing that Palestinians are the real “enemy” for insulting the kingdom “day and night” despite decades of financial support.
Social media imploded with scathing criticism of the shows, with multiple Twitter users saying their aim was to promote “normalization with Israel”.
The shows are produced by the influential Arab satellite network MBC, effectively under Saudi government control after its founder —- media mogul Waleed al-Ibrahim —- was detained with other elite businessmen at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel in a 2017 anti-corruption campaign.
They stand in contrast to “The End”, a popular Egyptian sci-fi drama that provoked fury in Israel after it predicted the collapse of the Jewish state.
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