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Ramadan has Arabs glued to TV soaps

Latest update : 2008-09-09

For the Arabs, Ramadan means more than just fasting and other religious observance. It is also the time when Arab television is rife with soaps and historic sagas to give viewers a slice of life in the motherland.

Arabs find themselves in front of the television during much of Ramadan.


A fasting month for Muslims, Ramadan is also a much-awaited opportunity to view new soap operas from around the Arab world. Channels multiply their offerings, and the programs cater to all tastes.


Other than being the Muslim holy month, Ramadan is synonymous with the return of such programming. Throughout the period of fasting, the days are set to the rythms of the television series (known as “mosalsalat” in Arabic), broadcast in great numbers by the satellite companies.


Until 2000, the Egyptian series have held a virtual monopoly on the market, but since then the Syrian series have caught up, recently joined by those of the Gulf states.


This year, for example, viewers enjoyed the third season of Bab el Hara (Gate to the Neighborhood), having waited impatiently for a year. The series centers on daily life in a Damascus suburb during the 1940s. Merchandise related to the series have been auctioned. In Lebanon and Syria for example, where school is resuming, students are buying the notebooks and pens emblazoned with the images of their heroes from the series.


A tradition of “Hakawati”, or storytelling

Brahim al Ariss, a film critic for the daily Arabic-language al Hayat, considers viewing the series during Ramadan a habit inherited from the hakawati tradition. Well-known for centuries, Hakawati is a storyteller who recounts each night a little of the history – and the legend – of the people of a neighborhood.

Previously, people ventured out to amuse themselves after the breaking of the fast. But these days, they appear to have lost the habit, above all among the middle classes. In the majority of Arab countries, falling consumer spending power has encouraged people to stay at home. Meanwhile, in Iraq or in the Palestinian territories it is more a question of safety that prevents families from going out. “Families that gather for iftar (the breaking of the fast) stay together at home and the amusement is the television.”

For the rest of the year, one or two series air per day; during Ramadan, there are sometimes up to a dozen.

The networks strive to offer something to suit all tastes. Besides the historic series which Syria is known for, there are “social” dramas that explore the actual problems of Arab society. There is also  “Laissa Saraban.” (It is not a mirage), which explores a sensitive subject in Arab society – that of love between Christians and Muslims.


There are also series in which the depictions of the characters which represent aspects of Arab culture, notably the series celebrating the life of the famous Egyptian singer and actor Abd el Halim Hafez, aired two years ago during Ramadan.

The series as link to country of origin


The networks have also taken care to coordinate airings for different time zones around the world, keeping in mind the Arab Diaspora.

For many expatriate Arabs the series also constitute a link to their country of origin.

According to Brahim al Ariss, the Egyptian community shows the biggest attachment to the fatherland and stays loyal to its national television.

Ola Osman, mother of a French-Egyptian family has been living in France for the past 20 years and returns to Egypt during the holidays. She says,  “Thanks to mosalsalat, I remain in touch, see how society is evolving," she explains. "It’s a reflection of current society. And then, we're  nostalgic about our own language.”

Date created : 2008-09-09