A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

As the Ramadan TV Series Season Approaches, Anticipation and Controversy

Ramadan starts Friday, and with it comes the much anticipated Ramadan TV season for this year. Historically the Muslim month of fasting is a time for families reading the Qur'an, one-thirtieth per night for a month, and holding family gatherings after iftar, the moment of breaking the fast after sunset. Fotr the past thirty years or so, it has also been a time for watching soap operas that run nightly for a month, or musical extravaganzas known as fawazir Ramadan or Ramadan puzzles, because they include riddles for the audience to solve.

Each year, the Ramadan offerings are a matter of anticipation. Egyptian and Lebanese production companies produce most of them, but Syrian soap operas hit it big a few years ago, and Turkish soap operas in translation are also popular.

Since many of the soap operas focus on sexual or other taboo themes to ensure ratings (though others have pious religious themes), and many of the musicals involve singing, dancing, and scanty clothing, many Islamists do not consider them appropriate Ramadan fare. Some social scientists have dubbed the fawazir and soap operas the "Christmas-ization" of Ramadan.

Well, it's almost time again, so we're seeing lots of talk about the new "season" of Ramadan TV. Here, for example, is a preview of Lebanon's TV offerings this Ramadan; while this report from Al-Arabiya speculates on whether the rise in the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt will deter that country's usual enthusiasm about Ramadan offerings.  Meanwhile, there's a Gulf effort on Twitter to promote a boycotting of the Ramadan shows,

And of course, it wouldn't be Ramadan without controversy over at least one show, and celebrity gossip about the stars.

In the first category, a series called ‘Umar al-Faruq, dealing with the second Muslim Caliph, and therefore involving portrayals of many of the most prominent companions of the Prophet, has aroused the ire of Islamists and religious conservatives who oppose the portrayal of any religious figures. The program, produced by Middle East Broadcasting and expected to be aired in most Arab countries and Turkey, has come under fire in Saudi Arabia, where Prince Abdel Aziz bin Fahd, son of the late King Fahd and with an interest in MBC, has warned:
"I swear to God that I disown and distance myself from MBC's work, especially Umar Al Farooq.I will do my best to stop this series.Qatar must accept God's will otherwise, we will go to court," he told Saudi newspapers.
God's will or the lawyers.

And then there is the celebrity news, since Lebanese singer and Superstar Celebrity Diva Haifa Wehbe announced she was pulling out of her anticipated series because there was insufficient time to complete production before Ramadan due to production delays. The plot sounds fairly typical:
A Cinderella-like tale, Haifa initially plays a poor woman who earns a living on the streets by dancing for passersby. Her character’s fortune changes, however, after an encounter with a wealthy man who falls deeply in love and seeks her hand in marriage.
At some stage during the show, Daher told The Daily Star, Haifa’s character is thrown in jail on false charges fabricated by members of her lover’s family.
Wehbe, not in Cinderella character
Haifa Wehbe (left), who tends to be known, in addition to her singing,  for her frequent display of her generous cleavage, certainly seems ideally suited to the role of a poor Cinderella type. But she ably provides the celebrity gossip quotient for this year's Ramadan series run-up.

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