The TV presenter who was proud of working for security

Quite a remarkable intervention by Egyptian TV presenter Ahmed Moussa, responding so some allegation by journalist Hamdi Qandil (if someone has a link or can explain in the comments, I'd be grateful) in which he says he is proud of working for security, that it's not a shame of working for the police of your country but the real shame is working for "foreign embassies."

I think more people like him should come out, or perhaps to make it easier, they could present their shows in uniforms.

[Via Elijah]

‘Zaat’ and her bathroom – and television

On Mada Masr, Dina Hussein reviews the television adaptation of Zaat, Sonallah Ibrahim's great novel about rising consumerism of Intifah Egypt in the 1970s and 1980s:

Watching “Zaat” on television today subjects viewers to this alternative representation of history. The series interrupts Egyptian lives to provide the historical background to their struggle today. One could say that Zaat’s story is the historical preamble to Egypt’s revolution. In the novel, Ibrahim describes the transmissions that surround Zaat as the “march of destruction and construction.” And I honestly do not see a better description of Egypt today other than a continuation of this march of destruction and construction. But there is another more basic reason for why the series succeeded in grabbing people’s attention today: empathy.

Ibrahim’s choice of Zaat as the name of his protagonist is not accidental. In her 1994 book, “Egyptian Writers Between History and Fiction,” Professor of modern Arabic literature Samia Mehrez tells us how “Zaat” is Ibrahim’s “ultimate objectification of the self.” She explains how Zaat in Arabic means an indefinite self; it can mean multiple selves and/or one self. This “objectification of the self”, she adds, is a strategy that Ibrahim uses to break the boundary between the private/individual and the public/collective. Zaat resembles the ordinary; her life reflects the mundane in Egyptians’ everyday life. Ibrahim succeeds in making Zaat’s private life a representation of the collective identity of the nation. This is precisely why her story, especially when televised, has grabbed people’s attention. Watching “Zaat,” particularly the episodes taking place in the 1980s, triggers an intense sense of empathy from viewers who see her as a reflection of themselves.

The serial went beyond the timeframe of the novel and into the 1990s and 2000s, ending just before the 25 January 2011 uprising.

On "Homeland"

Nuance, Depth and the Relative Islamophobia of Homeland « Christian Christensen

I watched the newish TV show Homeland a few months ago, and stopped after a few episode. It wasn't because I found it lacking in its depiction of Islam (caricatural approaches are so rife that I'm pretty oblivious to that) as much as that I did not think it was that entertaining. But here's a take on the show and its treatment of Islamic fundamentalism and that perennial classic of American popular entertainment and political paranoia, the enemy who looks like one of us (for this I prefer the "Invasion of the Bodysnatchers" movies):

When critics hail Homeland, they would do well to ask themselves how they would react to a program where a Muslim captive at Guantanamo Bay succumbs to Stockholm Syndrome, converts to Christianity, returns to Kabul/Tehran/Riyadh, rises through the political ranks to a position of authority, and, with the help of a radical Christian CNN journalist, plots a campaign of terror in his home country at the behest of a Christian extremist. I think I can guess some of the words used to describe such a program, but “nuanced” and “grounded” would not be among them.

Ramadan TV show stirs argument across Arab world

Ramadan TV show stirs argument across Arab world

More on Omar, this Ramadan season's hit soap opera about the second caliph, from Reuters' Mahmoud Habboush:

Conservative clerics denounce the series, which is running during the region's busiest drama season, the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Scholars see an undesirable trend in television programming; the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates has publicly refused to watch it.

But at dinner tables and on social media around the region, "Omar" is winning praise among many Muslim viewers, who admire it for tackling an important period in Islam's history. Some think it carries lessons for the Arab world, which is grappling with political change unleashed by last year's uprisings.

Salam Sarhan, a columnist at the Lebanese newspaper Diyar, said the show was part of a gradual trend for the Islamic world to re-examine its heritage more critically, and would open the door for more television and cinema productions depicting central figures in Islam.

"If anyone dared to depict these figures 20 years ago, he would have been accused of blasphemy," he wrote. "Simply put, depicting these revered figures with their mistakes, limitations, rivalries, anger, hunger and thirst will thrust Islamic societies into a new phase."

I'd previously noted the show here.

This year's Ramadan serial commentary

It's an annual MENA tradition I look forward to — analysis of the major Ramadan soap operas, TV serial, and overall programming choices on Arab national and satellite television. Here's a few links:

  • Al-Ahram Weekly | Front Page | Something wrong with the wires
  • L’écho des feuilletons arabes sur CPA | Culture et politique arabes
  • Al-Ahram Weekly | Culture | The Fourth Serial
  • The to Yves Gonzalez-Quinjano's wonderful site, Cultures et Politiques Arabes, is a full archive of his pieces on Ramadan serials over the last six or seven years — great stuff. I really like his recent piece on the serial about Omar Ibn Khattab's life in the context of the regional Sunni-Shia pseudo-confrontation. In English on the site, stats about this megaproduction:

    The Largest Arabic Drama Production in History : 1970 swords, 650 spears, 1500 horses, 3800 camels, 4000 arrows, 400 bows, 170 sheilds, 15 drums, 14200 meters of fabric, 137 statues, 39 costume designers & tailors, 1600 pieces of potery, 10000 silver coins, 7550 slippers, 322 actors and actresses, 10,000 extras in the ba.lefield, 299 technicians from 10 countries
    The Old City of Makkah and its areas were reconstructed across 12,000 sq meters, 29 in-studio sets, 89 outdoor shooting locations
    322 days of filming & post-production
    = 463.680 minutes
    = 72.820.800 seconds (source : http://butheina.wordpress.com)

    As Yves notes, it's a fascinating evolution of the Wahhabi-led fight for the domination of mass cultural production that their propaganda (as this clearly is) now eschews the traditional fundamentalist distaste for physical representations of companions of the Prophet and of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs.

    And like a lot of major political developments in the region lately (support for the Libyan and Syrian uprisings, the covert war against Iran, the tacit alliance with Israel, support for Salafists across the region, etc.) this too is a Qatari-Saudi production.

    1 Comment

    Issandr El Amrani

    Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

    Video: "People have this thing called a remote control"

    A wonderful appearance on Egyptian TV by my friend Ezzedine Shukri-Fishere, in which he pulls out a remote control out of his pocket and proceeds to explain that every one has one of these in their house and can switch the channel from State TV. He then says enough with accusations of foreign hands, spies and agitation, there are tactics from the 20th century and we are in the 21st. The presenter is quite defensive. He goes in to say State TV must be the television of the Egyptian people, not that of the Interior Ministry or SCAF.

    Although State TV continues to be fairly bad, especially with the call-ins, I have to say it has improved tremendously even since Maspero last month. It may be partly because of rumored rebellions by its employees. And there’s still much, much room for improvement.

    The civil state: an Egyptian infomercial

    I love this short informercial on what a civil state is. It airs on Qabila TV, which I hadn't heard about, and advocates the creation of a civil state. In the cute cartoon, the state is compared to a bride and there are three choices: the theocratic bride, the military bride, and the civil bride. The first two have little tolerance for disagreements, whereas the civil bride-state does. It's well done, the music is good, and the message simple (if of course a secular one.) Personally I'm glad to see it's out there.

    [Hat tip: Sarah Carr.]

    Wael Ghonim relaunches the revolution

    Everyone following events in Egypt knows by now that, last night around 11pm on Dream 2, Wael Ghonim — one of the instigators of the January 25 movement who has just been released after 12 days in detention — gave the country one of the most moving moments of television I have ever seen. After explaining his ordeal, his ideals, and his views on why the people in Tahrir were right, host Mona Shazli showed pictures of the "martyrs" of this uprising. Ghonim broke down and cried, saying as he sobbed: "It's not our fault. To the mothers and fathers, it's not our fault. It's the fault of the people in positions of authority who don't want to leave power."
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    Reassessing al-Jazeera

    This is an important piece on al-Jazeera. Olivier Da Lage starts off noting the commonplaces about al-Jazeera's pioneering role in Arab satellite TV and the political impact of its hard-hitting reporting and interviews. And then he makes this crucial point:

    But Al Jazeera was launched in 1996 and this is 2010, 14 years later. We cannot be satisfied repeating the same clichés, however true they may be, about the pioneering role of Al Jazeera. In the course of these 14 years the media and political landscapes around Al Jazeera have profoundly changed, largely due to the role it played in disrupting the traditional media system in the Arab world. But these changes, in turn, affected Al Jazeera for two main reasons. The most obvious reason is that, in 1996, Al Jazeera's style of reporting was unchallenged in the Arab world. This is no longer true. By setting the standard, Al Jazeera created the conditions and the framework for real competition and pluralism, and everyone had to more or less adapt to the Al Jazeera model. As a result, Al Jazeera is still a figurehead and a major actor, but it no longer has a monopoly on professional and independent reporting in Arabic. The second reason might be less obvious but it is linked to the reason for which Al Jazeera was originally created. Irrespective of the sincerity of the new Qatari Emir regarding freedom of the press, Sheikh Hamad had set himself a major objective: put Qatar on the geopolitical map well beyond the size of its territory and population. Al Jazeera was instrumental in achieving this goal, as the subsequent years have proven.

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    How Israeli hasbara works

    Hasbara is the Hebrew word for public diplomacy, i.e. the role people outside of government can have to spread pro-Israel messages and attack Israel's critics. It is a tried and tested propaganda method long relayed not only by Israeli citizens, but also pro-Israel lobbies (e.g. AIPAC), pro-Israel Jewish community groups (e.g. CRIF) and pro-Israel think tanks (e.g. WINEP). With the advent of the web, pro-Israel groups working in tandem with Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has conducted an often successful and often intensive hasbara effort targeting bloggers. This has included, for instance, efforts to leave comments in blog posts regarding Israel to defend the Israeli perspective.

    In the days before the flotilla's last journey towards Gaza, blogs such as this one were targeted by a message saying that the IHH, the Turkish humanitarian organization that owned the largest boat raided today, had links to al-Qaeda. Considering that IHH is legally recognized everywhere except the UN, engages in humanitarian actions with many other organizations and has consultative status with the UN, I am skeptical. IHH does seem supportive of Gazans and Hamas, but that's no crime and it's certainly not "fundraising for al-Qaeda." 

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    Taming Arab satellite television

    From bendib.com

    More moves to implement the 2008 Arab Information Ministers' Charter, which sought pan-Arab regulation for satellite TV programming:

    RIYADH (AFP) – A proposal to create a pan-Arab television monitor is a "disturbing" move that could could lead to censorship of broadcasts critical of Arab governments, a media watchdog said on Saturday.
    The Saudi-Egyptian proposal to establish a regional office to supervise satellite broadcasters is aimed directly at Qatar-based Al-Jazeera, the Palestinian Hamas group's Al-Aqsa TV and Hezbollah's Al-Manar channel, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said.
    "This proposal is disturbing, to say the least," the group said in a statement.
    "The danger is that this super-police could be used to censor all TV stations that criticise the region?s governments. It could eventually be turned into a formidable weapon against freedom of information."
    The proposal to create the "Office for Arab Satellite Television" is to be discussed when information ministers from Arab League countries meet in Cairo on January 24.
    Reporters Without Borders said the proposal stems in part from a recent move by the US Congress to allow satellite owners to be branded "terrorist entities" if they allow broadcasts by television channels also branded as such.
    Beyond a common interest in implementing censorship, this could also by a means to resolve the Arab media war taking place — with peaks and throughs — since the Gaza war. Egypt in particular is interested in calming al-Jazeera's coverage of the Rafah wall, and then of course there's always the Qatari-Saudi rivalries.
    See alsoArab Media & Society had a bunch of in-depth articles about the charter, and we covered the ministers' meeting here (search for more).
    Comment

    Issandr El Amrani

    Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

    Saddam TV

    BBC News - Mystery tribute channel to Saddam Hussein launched:

    "The 'al-Arab' channel, dubbed Saddam TV in Iraq first appeared on Bahrain-based Noorsat and Egypt-owned NileSat on Friday and is also streamed on the Internet. An Iraqi member of parliament, Jaber Habib Jaber, condemned what he called the channel's 'glorification of a tyrant'. One Baghdad resident told the BBC that the channel has become his favourite even though watching it makes him sad for reminding him of when Iraq was safe. However the BBC's Natalia Antelava in Baghdad says that many in the city are indifferent to the news of the channel's launch. It comes as Iraqi authorities are gearing up for parliamentary elections that are due to be held in January 2010."
    This story made me think: what' the programming grid on Saddam TV? His old ghostwritten biopics? Variety shows presented by Comical Ali? Cooking lessons with Chemical Ali? Documentaries about Stalin, Saddam's favorite historical figure? Tributes by the many journalists, think tankers, arms dealers and others who took money from Saddam in the old day? The Qusay and Udday Show, a sitcom based around two sons of an all-powerful dictator who get to drive around and terrorize Baghdad? Does every one and his dog have a satellite channel now in the Middle East? Via @Linaattallah.
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    Ramadan TV

    The excellent Culture et Politique Arabes site has a detailed analysis of the commercial underpinnings of Ramadan entertainment (Al Quds Al Arabi estimates that the Holy months brings in $100 million in TV advertising revenues). The post points out that the Egyptians got the jump on other Arab countries this year--in an increasingly competitive TV market--by starting to air their Ramadan soap operas a night before everyone else. The post also mentions the lack of Ramadan spirit in the new Egyptian TV channel El Qahera wa En-Nas (Cairo Centric in English) whose yellow posters all across Cairo have been promising "Ramadan's most daring TV." The campaign has clearly already raised some hackles, as this article in Islam Online describes what they consider to be a controversial exchange on one of the stations' talk shows, in which the director Ines El Daghidi, to the question "When do you think you might take the veil?" replied يا رب ماتكتها علي'' ("Oh God, don't decree this for me"--I think). What's extraordinary is that  apparently this "daring" station is considering editing the exchange out of the broadcast. Also read Amira Howeidy's piece on Ramadan television in Al-Ahram Weekly, Made to Measure.
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    Links for 09.10.09 to 09.11.09

    Al-Ahram Weekly | Egypt | Made to measure | Interesting Amira Howeidy article on Egyptian television, notably Naguib Sawiris' face-off with Ibrahim Eissa on the former's new TV show! ✪ Khaleej Times Online - Egypt school start delayed week in swine flu fear | While swine flu infections are spreading, this decision may be as much as leaving school until after Ramadan than a medical threat, IMHO. ✪ Reuters AlertNet - Egypt: Stop Killing Migrants in Sinai | HRW Statement on shootings at the border with Israel, referencing recent al-Masri al-Youm article with killer quotes on issue. ✪ Democracy, Tunisian style | Brian Whitaker | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk | Brian Whitaker engages in my favorite sport, Tunisia-bashing, pointing that Tunisia's much-vaunted stability comes at the price of a presidency for life. ✪ Dennis Ross, Bill Burns, Berman talk Iran with Jewish leaders conference (UPDATED) - Laura Rozen - POLITICO.com | For big push on Iran sanctions (and more?) by Jewish-American orgs. ✪ Last gasp for global Islam « Prospect Magazine | Review of a "woe-is-us" book by former Iraqi PM Ayad Allawi on Islam. ✪ aktub | Free Arabic typing tutor.
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    Links for January 12th

    Automatically posted links for January 12th:

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