“Khaybar” is a flop in the ratings
The number of articles in Arabic pushing “Khaybar” over the past couple of days made me wonder whether the producers were desperately trying to jack up the ratings of the expensive antisemitic series.
The Wall Street Journal seems to say that the series is not doing well against its competition. And in a series/soap opera like this, if people don’t watch from the beginning, they aren’t likely to pick up on it in the middle.
A traditional mainstay of Ramadan TV has been programming depicting Jews as hook-nosed spillers of blood who want to enslave the world, starting with Muslims. Perhaps most memorably, the 2001 Ramadan show “Faris Bila Jawad” (Horseman Without a Horse) told the story of Israel’s founding as a nation on the premise that the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” were real and not, as they were, a vicious anti-Semitic forgery by the Russian secret police.
This year, one Qatari-backed historical drama does fit that bigoted bill: “Khaybar”—airing on networks in Algeria, Egypt, Iraq and elsewhere—shows why a Jewish tribe in seventh-century Arabia deserved to be slaughtered by Muslims and recreates the carnage. Egyptian screenwriter Yusri al-Jundi made his feelings toward Jews clear when he told an Al Jazeera television interviewer: “The series shows how the Jews’ . . . nature endures. Despite the fact that hundreds of years have passed, they still spread corruption wherever they live.”
But early ratings show “Khaybar” to be a commercial flop, as well as an outlier. This year’s most popular shows don’t focus on an external enemy but on current intra-Arab issues.
The nightly comedy sitcom, “Abu Al Malayin” (Father of Millions), airing on the Saudi-backed network MBC1, is about two rich brothers’ zany adventures in capitalism. In one episode, the siblings predict that the Arab revolutions will boost demand for “tools of repression,” and start importing tear gas and police dogs. The brothers want to earn a bad reputation among Western human-rights groups, so that Arab states will be more likely to do business with them. When I asked screenwriter Khalaf al-Harbi why he thinks the show is a hit, he replied: “All year long Arabs have been crying—about Syria, about Iraq. They need to laugh more than ever.”
…Part of the reason such programming is dominating the airwaves is that the Syrian TV industry, which has long been the source of the most anti-Semitic and politically toxic shows, has been virtually put out of commission by the civil war. Battle scenes in dramas like “Khaybar” are costly, and these days are difficult to shoot outdoors in Syria, where the other kind of shooting is rampant.
The Brotherhood, for its part, hasn’t nurtured the creative talent necessary to staff its own ideological productions. One halting attempt was ridiculed by critics earlier this year for its conspicuous lack of female characters. Meanwhile, Shiite Hezbollah’s annual TV epic spotlights a non-Jewish adversary this year—the Sunni Ottoman Empire—in an apparent nod to the region’s sectarian strife. It hasn’t attracted a substantial audience.
Shifting political circumstances have conspired to alter the menu of shows this season. But viewers’ choices are a sign that Arabs may be eschewing the fixation on an external enemy in favor of more introspective, even self-critical fare—as well as plain old escapism.
It looks like the Arab world isn’t in the mood to watch antisemitic historical series.