Analysis

Trump? Bahrain? Jordanians Outraged Over Netflix's First Original Series in Arabic

With recent protests and many in the kingdom furious over upcoming U.S.-sponsored peace summit, King Abdullah may prefer his subjects to be preoccupied with a TV show

Screengrab from 'Jinn.'
Netflix

Jordan's foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, was boiling mad that the White House went ahead last Tuesday and announced that the kingdom will be participating in the Middle East peace conference in Bahrain sponsored by the United States.

Safadi said Jordan will be the one to decide when to announce its participation and should it decide not to participate, its decision would be based on its own assessments. Safadi added that Jordan has plenty of reasons not to take part in the peace conference. He also stated that "If Jordan does decide to attend, it would be to hear what the others have to say. If the things we hear will be in line with our positions, we'll give our consent, and if not – we'll express our opposition."

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 31Haaretz

Does Safadi's reaction attest that Washington has never even consulted with the royal family in Amman about the public announcement regarding Jordan's participation in the conference? The foreign minister hinted as much when he spelled out that Jordan has no idea what the "deal of the century" even includes, and that "it's not alone in that situation."

>> Read more:  U.S. Mideast envoy Greenblatt: We may postpone publication of peace plan to NovemberJared Kushner's 'paradigm-busting' Mideast peace plan just won't work | Opinion ■ Getting Jordan and Egypt to Bahrain was an American achievement — but it might Be Trump's only one | Analysis

If Safadi is right, it seems that yet again U.S. President Donald Trump has incorrectly assessed the minefield he's walking into in order to advance the "mystery of the century", and is making up facts as he goes alone, which could blow up in his face.

Jordan has long suspected that Washington, Saudi Arabia as well as Israel take it for granted. Leaks to the American press that Trump intends to resolve the Palestinian refugee problem by settling them in Arab countries (such as Jordan) badly worries Jordan, and others as well.

The amounts of money Jordan might be offered in compensation could prove crucial to extracting the kingdom from its economic malaise, but granting hundreds of thousands of Palestinians citizenship when the country is also overrun by Syrian refugees could destabilize it. Jordan fears that its mere attendance at the conference could confer legitimization on any resolutions reached there, if any are. This will make it more difficult for Jordan to reject these resolutions, or to oppose the trajectory laid down by Washington, with backing from Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Jordan's King Abdullah II arrives to attend India Jordan business meeting in New Delhi, India, on February 28, 2018.
Manish Swarup,AP

On the other hand, skipping the conference could not only hurt relations between Amman, Washington and Riyadh, but brand Jordan as an opponent to the peace process, which could cause it to be barred from discussions subsequent to the conference.

In fact, Jordan announced some weeks ago that it wouldn't be participating in the conference, but has since changed its position in a rather convoluted manner. Although it hasn't officially stated it will attend, estimates are that it will swallow the insult caused by the White House announcement. Talks in the royal court are now about the rank of officials who should attend.

"Trump should have left it for the king to announce his participation, and not talk in his name," a Jordanian journalist at a state-owned newspaper  told Haaretz. "It's a matter of courtesy and respect, and if Trump or his aides don't understand the rules of the diplomatic game, they are engendering antagonism with their own hands for a plan that hasn't even been born yet."

The reporter, who is believed to express the position of the Jordanian leadership, feels Jordan should participate in the conference because it can't afford not to be part of any discussion – essential or declarative – regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"It’s a national matter that involves state security," the journalist said. "These decisions must not be left in the hands of Saudi Arabia, Egypt or any other country, including the United States, without our having a position and presence in the decision-making process. The Palestinians should also participate, but that's for them to decide."

A scandalous Netflix series

Despite this recent crisis, the public discourse in Jordan about the conference is superseded by the latest furor rocking the nation: The new TV series called "Jinn" ("Demon" in English), the first in Arabic to be produced by Netflix, which began airing last week. It's a short series of just five episodes, written by the brothers Elan and Rajeev Dassani and directed by the Lebanese Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya and Jordan's own Amin Matalqa.

The frame story is about a group of students who go on a field trip to Petra, which according to legend, is ruled by demons. In the very first episode, the series shows the development of complex relationships between the male and female students. Their language is crude and worst of all – they talk about sex and even kiss. Jinn's producers and directors say their purpose is to showcase the problems of Jordanian youth, and young people in Arab countries in general. The people were unpersuaded.

Social media has been foaming with harsh posts blasting the series' creators, and mainly the Jordanians who enabled it to be broadcast. The Petra municipality instantly discounted any responsibility, arguing that it doesn't have the power to censor films. The film supervisory authority said that it hadn't been aware of the content when it granted its approval.

Jordan's Tourism Ministry, which had encouraged the broadcast of the series due to its potential to boost tourism, also sidestepped responsibility, though actually it didn't have any in the context of the content. Jordan's Grand Mufti, Mohammad Alkhalialah, published a ban on showing the series because of its crude language and the "unsuitable behavior it portrays, which do not comply with Jordan's values or heritage."

The Jordanian attorney general demanded to halt the broadcast and contacted Netflix to take it off the air. Netflix, however, stood strong behind the series and its actors, and in turn condemned anybody trying to harm the actors or creators. King Abdullah and his court have, for the nonce, stayed mum. It's safe to assume that a single word from the king would calm the waters. But given that until recently unemployed Jordanians took to the streets to protest, demanding they be given suitable jobs, followed by the Bahrain conference affair, the king may prefer his subjects to be preoccupied with a TV show.