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Ramadan TV’s usual suspects

This year’s Ramadan TV shows have apparently all been characterized by disappointment. Although many are following "Al-Gamaa" (The Group), a show about the Muslim Brotherhood, most noticeable are the disappointment with "Ana Ayza Atgawaz" (I Want to Get Married), the disappearance of "al-Daly III", and the mundane renditions of the actors, Ramadan’s usual suspects like Yehia al-Fakharany and Yousra.

Yehia al-Fakharany has opted out of his tradition of silly, modern-day "mama’s boy” roles for “Sheikh al-Arab Hammam” (Hammam, Sheikh of the Arabs). The show begins with Hammam’s father, al-Kabir, passing on his role to his son after a dream about his impending death. His last wish: for Hammam to have a son, which requires he remarry, as his wife is unable to have children. The show is moderately entertaining, made a little less so by the evil jinn Ali (Ali, the spirit), who sends his disciples–in ninja gear–to murder people to increase the wealth of his master.  Unnecessary and poorly shot decapitations take up air time and are only made worse when people carry the heads around and show them to other people.

Still, the characters are endearing, as depictions of southern Egyptians tend to be. The moral, honorable, and strong-yet-kind Hammam almost wins over those who are critical of the treatment of women and the relentless killings.

Viewers see the Egyptian countryfolk battle the Mamelukes, learn how to use guns, and live with love lost and honor taken, and are simultaneously entertained by the banter between Hammam’s two wives. “It’s the first Ramadan that I’m actually interested in Fakharany’s show,” says Magda, a housewife and avid television watcher. “I’ve followed every episode.”

Yousra is more typical with a strong female lead in “Be al-Shamaa al-Ahmar” (With Red Wax). A woman who, against all odds, fights for what is right, Yousra has, in years past, defended rape victims, brought corruption to light as a TV presenter, and sacrificed her marriage in defense of those in need. This year, she is a forensic medical examiner of the CSI variety, and despite what appears to be an effort on her part to create a more realistic show, her character conducts her examinations of dead bodies with her hair loose and flowing, and her face fully made up. Whether the flaws of camera, makeup, director, or the first-class actress herself, the look is just barely pulled off.

Facing a new promotion, Dr. Fatma (Yousra’s character), is surrounded by controversy when her competition for the position accuses her of malpractice. Dr. Hassan, another character and a close friend of Fatma, is plagued by his children’s misery over his divorce.

Fatma, divorced as well, is in the process of developing a relationship with Dr. Hassan. She spends much of each episode running after Moatez, her son, who doesn’t follow her code of familial conduct, acting like a typical Egyptian mother who is overly concerned but unwilling to self-evaluate.

Unlike its US counterpart, “Bel Shamaa al-Ahmar” relies in a large part on the ongoing story rather than on episode by episode crimes, making it a show that must be followed daily. “The show is comforting and entertaining,” explains Mona, a college student. “It has an upgraded version of the soap opera feeling, and the forensics aspect proves that Egyptian TV is aware of international trends.”

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