BEIRUT: The much-awaited season of Ramadan dramas begins this weekend alongside the start of the month of fasting. Many across the Arab world, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, gather around the television to watch their favorite series.
During Ramadan each of the leaders in the Arab series industry shows off its work in the hopes of attracting as many viewers as possible. Each year the competition is increasing and after months of preparations, the cast and crew of the airing musalsalat boost their work to the next level.
Production giants around the Arabic-speaking world have made this the year of the woman, with several dramas comprised of majority female leads. As in past seasons, contemporary social issues facing the region, namely the so-called Arab Spring, make a major appearance in the series’ story lines. Several dramas hearken back to historical periods, including one exploration of religious-political leader Al-Farouq Omar bin Al-Khattab.
Following is The Daily Star’s selection of musalsalat not to be missed during the 2012 Ramadan season:
Daily on MBC 1
In production for three years, Omar follows the life of Al-Farouq Omar bin Al-Khattab, one of the Muslim caliphs.
The story begins with Omar, who rises to become one of the most influential figures in Islam and Arab world, as a boy, according to the series’ official website. Born in Mecca, Omar works to unite the tribal communities and cleanse the region of pernicious corruption and greed.
A committee of seven leading Islamic scholars reviewed the facts presented in the series to ensure their religious and historical accuracy, according to the site.
Despite this, the series stirred controversy in the region after several religious figures, including the Mufti of Saudi Arabia Sheikh Abdel-Aziz Bin Abdallah al-Sheikh and some scholars of Egypt’s Al-Azhar, voiced their utter rejection of the depiction of prominent figures in Islam – particularly Al-Sahaba, the companions of the Prophet Mohammad.
“Maintaining the highest moral values, Omar became a refuge for those in need, and tried to find justice for everyone, including his enemies,” the site said.
Omar is this year’s biggest production for satellite network MBC, which anticipates the series will be well-received among Muslim audiences, according to the site.
It is directed by renowned Syrian TV series director Hatem Ali and stars Syrian actor Mehiar Khadour.
Al-Wilada Min al-Khasira Part II
Daily at 6:40 p.m. on LBCI and 6 p.m. on Abu Dhabi TV
The Syrian drama Al-Wilada Min al-Khasira, directed by Rasha Shorbatji, weaves together multiple story lines tackling issues “at the core of the Syrian community,” according to the series’ website.
In a more sober role than his usual comedy leads, actor Bassem Yakhour stars alongside Sulaf Fawakherji and Maxim Khalil in a series that highlights the struggles of working-class families.
The subject matter makes Al-Wilada Min al-Khasira a key series this season in light of the violent upheaval in Syria. Trailers and plot teasers hint that the series may broach to an extent major issues underlying the country’s political unrest.
Stories of corruption, crime and dreams deferred, as well as latent frustrations, underscore the daily trials facing Syrian society. Weaving this social and political commentary into the narrative, creators hope to reflect the true experiences of Syria’s social classes.
Ferqat Naji Atallah
Daily on LBCI and MBC 1
After being away from television for 30 years, leading Egyptian comedian Adel Imam is back. Imam will lead in Ferqat Naji Atallah as a retired major general, who is assigned to work for the Egyptian army at the country’s embassy in Tel Aviv.
Atallah’s anti-Israeli, pro-Palestinian sentiments set the backdrop for this dramatic comedy. While living in Israel, his circumstances lead him to form a gang of followers, together hatching a plan to rob a bank. The series is directed by Imam’s son Rami Imam and also stars his youngest son Mohammad Imam, in addition to Ahmad al-Saadani.
Daily at 2 p.m. on MBC Drama
The series Banat al-Ayleh also directed by by Rasha Shorbatji looks at the lives of Syrian women through several narratives, aiming to highlight major social issues women in the region face, according to LBCI’s marketing office.
The stigma surrounding divorced women takes center stage.
Brought together by their families and separated by life’s challenges, the ladies reunite to tell their stories marked by romance, hatred, misery, dreams and suffering.
Shorbatji, managed to gather high-profile Syrian actresses: Nisrine Tafesh Safaa Sultan and Dima Kandalaft depict stories about women’s struggles, dreams and ambitions in modern-day Syria.
Maha al-Masri, another prominent actress, also had her share in the musalsal.
Daily on MBC 1
Set during the 1940s, the period drama depicts a time of major social and political progress in Egypt.
Al-Khawaja Abdul-Kader, the main character played by Egypt’s Yehya al-Fakharany, moves to Africa from Great Britain after losing his wealth and family during World War II.
Herbert changes his name to Abdul-Kader upon converting to Islam and then relocates to the remote region of Al-Saeed, in the south of Egypt.
Facing a new culture, religion and budding romance with Zeina, a local woman played by Syrian actress Sulafa Memar, Abdul-Kader is caught between his Western background and his new-found home.
Daily at 7 p.m. on Abu Dhabi al-Oula
As the leading actress in the series, Egyptian star Yusra embodies the 50-year-old Sharbat Loz, a divorced woman living with her brothers in a crowded suburb of Cairo.
Working as a seamstress, Sharbat’s love for money and power forces her to marry comedian Samir Ghanem, an old rich guy with children. While trying to achieve her goals, Sharbat faces many problems that she tries to resolve in this societal drama.
Daily at 8:10 p.m. on Al-Manar TV
The historical drama depicts the life in Damascene neighborhoods in the aftermath of the withdrawal of the Ottomans from the Levant. The major Syrian actors, including Salloum Haddad, Bassam Koussa, Ayman Zeidan, and Abdel-Hadi Sabbagh, all play a role in the series.
Syrian historical dramas have become hugely popular among Arab viewers and this year is no different with almost a dozen series of the same genre produced in 2012.
Daily on MBC Drama
Directed by Hussein Shawkat, Hikayat Banat sheds light on the modern struggles of Egyptian women; the series follows the lives of four ladies over the course of one year, according to the series’ website.
The title of the drama translates literally to the “tales of women.” Through the eyes of women, Hikayat Banat tells the story of family life, dreams, work and romance, in ways its creators hope reflect their real-life experiences, according to the website. Starring in the series is Jordanian actress Saba Mubarak, and Egyptian actress Dina al-Sherbini made famous in Lebanese TV series Ruby.
Daily on MBC Drama
Upon discovering a daughter’s affair, her family makes the woman, played by Kuwaiti actress Huda Hussain, a prisoner in her own home. Helfet Omri tells the tragic story of a woman forced into an abusive marriage because of strict social mores.
Hussain plays an aloof woman from the ’60s, who is bound by family tradition until she finds the strength to divorce her husband. But the divorce leaves the character without a family to help her overcome life’s obstacles.