Middle East

Ramadan: Historical TV dramas break with past in Muslim world

A promotional poster for the Egyptian Jewish Quarter soap opera Image copyright El Adl
Image caption A promotional poster for the Egyptian Jewish Quarter soap opera

The Islamic holy month of Ramadan is associated with TV dramas and soap operas across the Arab and Muslim world.

Millions of Muslims in the Arab World spend hours watching TV during and after breaking their fast.

It is during Ramadan that commercial TV channels get their highest ratings for the year. Egyptian and Syrian TV productions predominate.

The hard times spawned by Syria's crisis have boosted the popularity of series like Bab al-Hara, which is in its seventh year in the country.

It depicts life in a Damascus district under the French mandate in the 1930s.

Another series - Darb al-Yasmin - takes place in a southern Syrian village during the late 1990s and focuses on the military and intelligence work of the resistance against Israel.

Harmonious history?

Egypt goes further with historical dramas breaking tradition with a drama sympathetic to Egypt's vanished Jewish community.

The Jewish Quarter depicts a time when Jews and Muslims lived together harmoniously.

Image copyright El Adl
Image caption Jewish Quarter features a Jewish woman's relationship with a Muslim man

But the series has also provoked negative reactions on social media.

One user, Muhammad Ibrahim (@PEUMohamed), tweeted in Arabic: "Jews_Quarter represents the shift of the Egyptian cinema from low standards and indecency to double agency and clear and unequivocal treason."

Image copyright El Adl
Image caption One of the families pray before a meal in Jewish Quarter

There are generally fewer political dramas in Egypt this year, reflecting a sense of what Egyptian media are calling political saturation in the country.

Love themes and genres addressing other societal issues have returned to screen as the revolution narrative starts to take a back seat.

The drama, Al-Risk, tries to convey the atmosphere of post-revolution Tunisia.

It revolves around a political leader imprisoned by the former regime who decides to take revenge on all those who took part in his humiliation and incarceration after his release.

Image copyright Future TV
Image caption Lebanese soap opera Cello features a love triangle involving a musician couple and a businessman

In Lebanon, social media is abuzz about Cello - widely expected to be one of the country's most watched Ramadan series.

It has been described as an adaptation of the Hollywood movie Indecent Proposal, starring Demi Moore and Robert Redford.

In it a young female cello player becomes the object of another man's obsession, to the dismay of her husband.

Bint Al-Shahbandar, based on political events in Beirut between 1880 and 1912, is also expected to be popular.

Increasingly sombre

Image copyright IRIB
Image caption Season four of hit comedy series Paytakht premiering on Iranian state TV this Ramadan

In Shia Iran, moral and religious content is in the foreground in state TV's Ramadan special programme.

Particularly around mid-Ramadan, the tone of programmes becomes more sombre as the death anniversary of first Shia imam, Ali, approaches.

State TV programmes also highlight wider political, economic and social concerns.

The main soap opera this Ramadan is expected to be Look Back from Time to Time - a story is about supporting local products to boost the economy hard hit by sanctions.

Also popular this Ramadan is The Soil and Salt - a Lebanese TV series about Islamic resistance against Israel.

This year, it has chosen to run the fourth season of the extremely popular comedy series Payetakht (The Capital), which depicts the everyday life of a family from a small town in northern Iran.

Turkey's mosques

Image copyright AP
Image caption Turkish Muslims celebrate Ramadan at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul

Turkey's political disputes have spilled over into Ramadan TV programming.

A request by two pro-opposition television channels - Samanyolu TV and Mehtap TV - to broadcast live from two mosques in Istanbul was denied by the local religious authority. Yet other channels have been granted permissions.

Samanyolu TV is known to have links with Fethullah Gulen - a cleric who fell out with the country's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2013 and has been vocal in his criticism of the government.

It is common for TV channels to use mosques as settings during Ramadan to enhance the spiritual sentiments in audience.

Samanyolu TV is now building its own studio inspired by traditional Ottoman architecture to use during Ramadan.

Over in Tajikistan and Pakistan, TV used to show religious soap operas and a regular programme discussing religious issues during Ramadan.

But, amid fears of growing Islamist militancy, these are not as prominent on TV schedules as they once were.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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