Netflix has removed an episode of comedian Hasan Minhaj’s show Patriot Act from the streaming platform in Saudi Arabia amid pressure from the Saudi government. The episode, which was first made available around the world on October 28, 2018, criticised government leaders over the murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi, the war in Yemen, and the billions of dollars flowing from Saudi coffers into Silicon Valley.
The decision by Netflix to remove the episode was first reported by the Financial Times, but the episode is still reportedly available on YouTube in the country. YouTube is owned by Google and it’s not immediately clear whether YouTube has received a request to remove the episode as well.
Google did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment but Netflix told NPR, “We strongly support artistic freedom and removed this episode only in Saudi Arabia after we had received a valid legal request—and to comply with local law.”
What local law? Saudi officials have cited a law about, “production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy, through the information network or computers.” So, pretty much anything that the government deems unacceptable. Saudi Arabia has previously threatened anyone spreading “fake news” with five years in prison.
The episode of Patriot Act is extremely critical of the Saudi government’s murder of Khashoggi, who was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2. Khashoggi, who had been critical of the government in many of his writings, was lured to the consulate by government agents who reportedly drugged the reporter and chopped his body up into pieces while his fiancee was waiting outside. His remains have never been found, though the Turkish government believes it has video of the dismembered body being removed from the building in several bags.
But the controversy around the episode isn’t just about Khashoggi. Minhaj also dives into the Saudi government’s connections to power in the United States, including with many in the tech industry. And Minhaj makes plenty of jokes at Silicon Valley’s expense along the way.
“The Saudis effectively own 10 per cent of Uber, which makes complete sense,” Minhaj says in the episode. “Saudi Arabia and Uber are both places women drivers don’t feel safe.”
“Tech companies are swimming in more Saudi cash than a Bugatti dealership in Beverly Hills,” Minhaj continued.
“All of these companies have taken Saudi investment, through a Japanese company called Softbank,” Minhaj explains, as the logos for companies like Slack, WeWork and DoorDash appear behind the host. Minhaj goes on to explain that Saudi’s crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, (commonly referred to as MBS,) has invested roughly $US11 ($16) billion in Silicon Valley since 2016.
So, yes, leaders in Saudi Arabia are probably pissed off that the episode discusses the war in Yemen and the killing of Khashoggi, but there’s also probably a lot of concern about new scrutiny involving the blood money that’s currently being pumped directly into American tech companies. A number of high-profile American CEOs, including the CEO of Uber, pulled out of a big Saudi tech conference last October, though it’ll be interesting to see how long the aversion to Saudi money really lasts.
For its part, the American government doesn’t seem to have any real problem with Saudi Arabia, despite the fact that American intelligence agencies believe MBS directly ordered the killing. In fact, President Donald Trump takes no issue with murder committed by the Saudis as long as his financial interests are met.
“It’s a very simple equation for me. I’m about make America great again and I’m about America first,” Trump said last month about America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia.
It should probably be noted that President Trump has never released his tax returns and there’s no way of knowing if he currently has any personal financial interest in the Saudi kingdom. Critics of President Trump have largely focused on his possible financial relationship with Russia, but there are countless other countries with which he may have conflicts of interest.
The Canadian news site Global News has a pretty good summary of what we already know:
The president’s links to Saudi billionaires and princes go back years, and appear to have only deepened.
In 1991, as Trump was teetering on personal bankruptcy and scrambling to raise cash, he sold his 85.95m Trump yacht “Princess” to Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin-Talal for $US20 ($28) million, a third less than what he reportedly paid for it.
Four years later, the prince came to his rescue again, joining other investors in a $US325 ($463) million deal for Trump’s money-losing Plaza Hotel.
In 2001, Trump sold the entire 45th floor of the Trump World Tower across from the United Nations in New York for $US12 ($17) million, the biggest purchase in that building to that point, according to the brokerage site Streeteasy. The buyer: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Shortly after he announced his run for president, Trump began laying the groundwork for possible new business in the kingdom. He registered eight companies with names tied to the country, such as “THC Jeddah Hotel Advisor LLC” and “DT Jeddah Technical Services,” according to a 2016 financial disclosure report to the federal government. Jeddah is a major city in the country.
“We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi,” Trump said in his statement late last year. “In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran.”