Media Stories

Syria's Ramadan Soaps Aren't Bubbling This Year

Friday, August 12, 2011

Syria is famous for producing soap operas during Ramadan. But this year's uprising in the face of a brutal crackdown by Bashar al-Assad's regime is all too real. Now famous actresses play supportive roles and real-life demonstrator are the stars.

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--When the sun sets and the Muezzin calls for iftar (the break fast), the jolly hours of the holy month of Ramadan--the 30 days of fasting, mercy and forgiveness for observant Muslims--are supposed to begin.

After living in Damascus for a couple of years, having left just this past April, I often enjoyed and observed the byproducts of the month.

In those happier times, families and friends got together for enormous meals after sunset, met in cafes for a hookah or took walks.

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People also commonly gathered around a TV set to watch a special Syrian-made Ramadan soap opera that often dared to push the envelope on social conventions.

This year I'm not there. I'm in New York, where I can assume from what I see on the news the mood must be altogether different.

More than 140 people, mostly demonstrators, were killed in Hama on July 31, the first day of Ramadan, and at least 67 in Deir az-Zour, in the east of Syria, on Aug. 7. More than a dozen protesters were killed on Aug. 10.

All told, some 2,000 people have been killed and 15,000 arrested since the revolt's start in mid-March, according to Syrian Observatory, a human rights group.

The regime in Damascus has defied growing demands to end the bloodshed, most recently from Saudi Arabia and Turkey and with continuing pressure from the Obama administration. European countries might sanction Syria's oil and gas industry this month, according to a New York Times piece. It seems like a peaceful Ramadan in Syria is now a distant hope.

In years past Syrian TV productions (musalsalat) attracted tens of millions of spectators between North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, with dramas that tackled a range of issues tinged by social taboo: religious fanaticism, homosexuality, adultery, domestic violence, pre-martial sex.

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You have mentioned that last year's drama "Ma Malakat Aymanukum" (What Your Right Hand Possesses) was produced by Najdat Anzour, and that it stirred heated discussion in the Arabic world about sex-role attitudes, Islamic fundamentalism and violence. But you have forgotten to mention why. The reason is the script was written by a woman. It is important to mention that Halla Diab wrote the daring script and faced all kinds of criticism even by educated media professionals. Please read my article about an interview with Dr Halla I have published