J ust as the Islamic holy fasting month of Ramadan is marked with an increase in charity and religious activities, it has also become synonymous with television series — this year alone there are more than 40.
There has been a rise in both the number and quality of productions. Over the past several years, people have been talking about how Egyptian television series have lost their place at the top in the Arab world, gradually being overshadowed by Syrian series and the growing number of adored Turkish series dubbed in the Syrian dialect.
However, Egyptian series have made a comeback in both quality and quantity. One of the key ingredients of success this year is the subject matter tackled by the shows, scriptwriters and producers have delved into Egyptian society to present contemporary content rather than an uncomplicated, predictable fictional plot.
Three series have accomplished just this and are rated among the best this Ramadan.
Taking the prime slot this year on the majority of terrestrial and satellite television channels is “El-Gama’a” (or The Group), which for the first time ever addresses the banned political group, the Muslim Brotherhood, explicitly in the media.
Politics has become central to the conversations of Egyptians, whether they are talking about the upcoming elections, economics, development or even arts and culture. And a discussion about politics rarely comes without a mention of the Muslim Brotherhood, referred to by officials in state-owned media as the “banned group.”
At first the series drew strong opposition from the group, who said its leaders were being portrayed as violence-prone while State Security was shown in a positive light, confirming people’s speculations that its sole objective was to distort the MB’s image ahead of the upcoming People’s Assembly elections. However, the series took a different turn in later episodes, pinpointing major dysfunctions in Egyptian society and criticizing the government in different ways.
Written by renowned scriptwriter Wahid Hamed and directed by Mohamed Yassin, the series begins with the 2006 events during which MB students at Al-Azhar University held a military-style parade and follows their interrogation and detainment. Parallel to this, the series traces the life of MB founder Hassan El-Banna; starting from his childhood we see how he was brought up and what led him to create one of the largest banned political groups.
“I was really intrigued by ‘The Group’ when I first saw its trailer before Ramadan, we have never seen the Muslim Brotherhood discussed in the media,” said Ahmed Osman, a 28-year-old banker.
“I wanted to see what the series will say about the regime’s biggest and probably the only opposition, with their approval to air it on state media,” he added.
Despite portraying the current MB leaders in a negative light, some viewers have grown to admire the group’s founder. “He is not just an ordinary guy, [he’s] extremely charismatic and influential. You see how someone who grew up in a small village in a countryside goes on to create one of the biggest movements in Egypt and the Arab world,” said Heba Affifi, a 26-year-old working in advertising.
I Want to Get Married
Alongside their call for independence, education, fighting the glass ceiling in the job market and female genital mutilation, the bottom line is Egyptian females want to get married and this year the topic was addressed on-screen in the series “Ayza Atgawez” (I Want to Get Married), starring Hend Sabry.
Based on the bestselling blog-turned-book by Ghada Abdel Aal, the series takes us through the frustrating process of finding a husband.
The variety of genres this year is also interesting. For example, even though “I Want to Get Married” discusses the sensitive subject of what’s considered spinsterhood by society’s standards, it is a comedy series which parodies the agony girls endure as a result of the social pressures to find a husband and settle down.
“Ola [Sabry’s character] is spelling out what we are all going through,” noted a 26-year-old investment banker who preferred to remain anonymous.
“Even though she is a highly educated pharmacist and has a promising career, this does not overshadow the desire to find Mr. Right and get married and the sad thing is that it is true, every girl wants that no matter how accomplished she is,” she explained.
Bringing one of the contemporary hot topics in Egypt to the small screen, “El Harra” (The Alley), discusses life at a squatter settlement in Cairo.
Ever since the success of Khaled Youssef’s “Hena Maysara” in 2008, people have been intrigued by learning more about life in the slum areas of Egypt. The series tackles everyday issues through the characters in the alley.
Starting from the different ways they earn their living to the dreams and aspirations of the younger generation growing up in this environment. Topics such as religious extremism, prostitution, bribes, family feuds and even Facebook are brought to the screen.
“We have heard experts talk about how slums are a time bomb but we never understood why; this series takes us into how these people live, their perspective on things, the hardships they go through what makes them happy amidst all this,” said Moataz El-Safty, a 31-year-old, working in the petroleum sector.
“You learn that there is a whole other place and way of life in Egypt which we are completely ignorant of its people and their needs,” he added.
It seems that this year’s series are more down-to-earth, trying to tackle real issues and portray people’s genuine concerns instead of the run of the mill look inside the lives of businessmen who flee the country with billions in loans or honest government employees who refuse to take bribes.
“El Harra” (The Alley) discusses life at a squatter settlement in Cairo.
A scene from "Al-Gama’a".