First time for an Arab musalsal to win an Emmy International

Times are changing and the Arab media is starting to be considered a mature media system, if it is able to gain the prestigious Emmy International Award.

Al Ijtiyah(The invasion) is the first ever Arab musalsal (soap opera) to win such a famous and international prize, beating the very well known telenovelas as the Brasilian ” Paradise of the tropical forest ” which was in the final shortlist. “Al Ijtiyah” is the perfect example of a Panarab production: many actors come from Syria, the production company is from Jordan and the director Shawqi Al Majiri from Tunisia. As for the story, it is focused on Palestine: an impossibile love affair between a Palestinian man and an Israeli woman, the set being real events happened in the Middle East in the past years, like the Israeli raid and violent massacre of the Palestinian population of Jenin in 2002.

Placing the love story in a real setting and tackling political and social issues -the so called “hot potato”- is something that Arab musalsalat have been doing since the beginning of this TV genre, created in the early 60s thanks to former Egyptian president Gamal Nasser. But in the past years the popularity of the Egyptian TV drama is decreasing, being it  very much “star-centered” and tailored on big actors/actresses without paying too much attention to other important details, like the scriptwriting of the story, the rest of the cast, the quality of the production, etc.

Now other minor industries are challenging the monopoly of Egypt in this genre: first of all, Syria which in the past years has produced lot of high-quality drama (like the work of Najdat I. Anzour). Now also Jordan and Palestine are doing their best to compete, and apparently with a lot of success.

Arab Telemedia, the production company who’s behind the Emmy awarded musalsal, is not new to quality drama production, and also not new to polemics. Few years ago they produced “Tariq ila Kabul” (The road to Kabul), a very high quality musalsal dealing with the history of Afghanistan, from the USSR to the American occupation, passing by the Taleban and Bin Laden. The soap was prevented from broadcasting  when it was already on air on Panarab channel MBC.

Al Ijtiyah” had similar problems: nobody among the Arab channels would have bought it for the very sensitive topic it was tackling, except from Lebanese station LBC which aired it in Ramadan 2007.

We all hope that, after getting this important international prize, the musalsal will be aired as all the other high quality musalsalat that have been produced in the past years in the Arab region and prevented from broadcasting.

Ammon news, a great grassroots experience in Jordan

I came to know this very interesting webnews project in Jordan called Ammonnews (the ancient name of Jordan’s beautiful capital Amman). One of the two guys who’s behind it is named Sameer Al Hayari, a very cool Jordanian in his forties who had this brilliant idea two years ago with his colleague Bassel Okoor. They both had a journalistic background, but they felt they would have need something more. A media which would have enjoyed less constraints, both in terms of freedom of expression and also in terms of distributing the news. And to publish “live” news, of course. It was 2006, in Jordan there was no such thing as a news webportal grassroots based.

I just met Sameer, he was sitting in Donner Cafe, the place in Amman where they usually meet up to write down stuff for the website. It’s like an office, an open office, where everybody gathers every evening to write down articles, smoke narghila and drink tea together. It’s like an open space, wireless of course, people keep coming and going, some of them sit at the table and write down pieces of news, some others drink tea and discuss about politics. Other people just come to bring fresh news, about what’s happening in town. Or they come to speak with Sameer. His phone is ringing like crazy while the websites is updated live. A modern, cool, networked newsroom!

Contributions come from the web and mobiles, from citizens that want to debate local issues, and from professional journalists that enjoy giving Ammonnews their articles for free. Why? Because the website has become the “place to be”.

“When we started we were just the two of us”, says Sameer while smoking narghila the oriental way. “We wanted to create something new, something fresh, and we just did it, without any funding, just with our pocket money and our passion.  Our model was, so we asked the webmaster to design a website on the similar scheme. Then we asked our network of journalists’ friends to send us contributions, and little by little the site started to be well known. After one year of life, the former goverment shut down the website because of its free spirit in talking about politics. This provocked a huge phenomena, never seen before: people were just protesting cause the website has become so popular that the people wanted it to stay. So the government was pushed to re-open it”.

“After this, the website boomed and the number of contributors and readers increased very quickly. So we started to take advertising, mostly coming from local companies, and this has become our business model. Now we have ten people working for us, and we are doing very well. We will open an english service soon, inshallah!”.

Well, if you google them in Arabic, you will see that they has become a source for other news organisation, like Radio Sawa (the American radio station in Arabic) among the others. And all the people in Jordan take it as a reference for being informed about what’s happening in the country, also the government people are calling them to react to articles and debate about what they have published. It’s a virtuous circle between readers and news makers, professionals and amateurs, government and citizens.

I think Ammonnews is a great example of how a grassroot experiment can be born, become well known and find also a sustanaibility and a business model. And, again, it’s another good example of how Jordan is quickly moving forward to innovation and creativity. A place to watch out for future trends in the Arab region.

anawasameerAna wa Sameer in Donner Cafe, Amman


Ammonnews “office” in Donner Cafe, Amman

Jordan’s new exciting filmaking scene

I am currently out in Amman, Jordan and I am discovering an exciting forming filmaking industry. Jordan does not have a strong background in filmaking and movie industry (it has produced only a very few number of feature films), neither it is an oil rich country like the Gulf which is compensating the lack of tradition in the audiovisual industry with a good injection of money to create a new one.Indeed, it has a very promising future in the field of creativity in media.

A Jordanian animation company, called Media Plus, has just won the Silver Award at the Cairo Arab Media Festival with its cartoon series“Nahfat Ailetna” which tells a lot about Jordanian society in a very nice and entertaining way. But this is not the only good news for the country.  Institutions like the Royal Film Commission are doing a great job to raise up a new generation of filmakers by providing training in the audiovisual field and by renting the film equipment to who wants to practise filmaking.  The team of the RFC is all made up by young people, plenty of talent and energy.

Like Sarah, the lebanese young lady who teaches camera and filmaking. I attended her class today and  have to say that I have rarely seen such an energy and a talent in teaching technical stuff. She was also enriching her lessons by quoting all sorts of films, from the “Russian Ark” by Russian director Sokurov to “L’Avventura” by Antonioni: films that I have rarely heard quoted in a similar course in Europe.  I would really love to introduce people like Sarah to the ones in Europe who say -too often- that we should “train” the young ones in the Arab world, teach them how to use the digital technologies, etc etc. During the last Euromed meeting I attented in Cairo few days ago this attitude was sometime out once again, and I think it’s very bad that the people in Europe still have their eyes closed on what’s happening in the Arab world. Young people in the Arab world are gifted, talented and plenty of energy and creativity like Sarah, plus they know very well how to use digital media.

The group in the RFC is exactly proving this. They are active, plenty of  talent, and they are trying to build up an industry and a new generation of filmakers in a very passionate way.

They also have a very cool movie library that they are trying to build up and a very cosy screening room where people will be able to seat and watch European movies as well as Arab, Asian, American, etc. This gorgeous screening room has been designed by two young architects, Jordanian of course. Keep an eye on this new generation of Jordanian people that will be booming with such a passion!




The first Muslim virtual world to be launched soon

Avatars will wear hijab and go to prayer rooms five times a day. And even if there will be a proper currency it won’t surely be used to buy alchool in this new upcoming virtual world designed by the social network, which already hosts many themed bloggers, forum, polls, an online Tv service plus the Quran in many languages, with the possibility to browse in the surah of the Holy book.

The new virtual world, named Muxlim Pal, is reported to be open to everybody, not only to Muslims.  “It’s not a religious platform, but a virtual world which is addressed to religious and not religious people” in the words of Ashar Saeed, the vice-president, who is from Sweden but now based in London, and is a young pioneer in the field of Islamic finance.  And Mohamed El Fatatry, the Ceo and founder, seems to be one of the most successfull in the online Islamic space. He says in his webprofile to have been nicknamed the “Linus Torvalds” of the Muslim world. Maybe also because most of the Muxlim team comes from the homeland of Linux’s father. Most of the Finnish people in the Muxlim staff are working in the web development or graphic side of the web platform, except for the co-founder and board member Pietari Paivanen who is a Finnish.

The composition of the Muxlim team is quite multicultural and the final goal of the platform is to serve  “as a tool to let people explore the Muslim culture“, a lively and immersive tool rather than a static and non-interactive one.

The official launching of Muxlim Pal is scheduled in few weeks but the platform has already attracted a lot of press and media attention.

Next step is to see how the tool will be received in the Arab world and if, being an “halal” space, it can avoid to be censored as many of the social networks and web 2.0. platforms (Skype, You Tube, Facebook, etc) are censored in different Arab countries for many reasons, but first of all for allowing social networking and free speech.

Al Jazeera still the top Arab brand for 2008

Forbes Arabia has just disclosed the top 40 Arab brands for 2008: Without much surprise, Al Jazeera is still the “most wanted” in the Arab world and not only, since in 2004 it was the fifth brand in the whole world, according to Brandchannel.

The most interesting finding in the Forbes Arabia chart is that among the first 10 brands in this list of 40 the top positions are held by tv and media companies.

MBC, the Saudi backed and Dubai based network, seats at number two, while Rotana, backed by the world famous billionaire Prince Waleed Bin Talal, helds the fifth position, followed by LBC, a successfull Lebanese TV channel which the same Prince owns, together with Sheikh Pierre El Daher, one of the founders.

This proves that TV and broadcasting media are still very powerful in the Arab world, representing the most profitable sector where to invest if aiming to enhance brand image and marketing potential. But also if aiming at having an influence on society and on public opinion in the Arab region.

The new goldmine in Israel is..Syrian “Bab al Hara”

Israel seems to be watching Syria..or at least its musalsalat (soap opera), a TV product where the Syrians are among the top producers in the Arab region. Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports about the impressive viewing of “Bab al Hara”, one of the top Syrian productions of last Ramadan season (broadcaster by Saudi owned and Dubai based channel MBC), on Israelis’mobile screens. The mobile content provider Cellcom reports that in the month of October (slightly after Ramadan) 100,000 views of the Syrian soap opera were registred. The soap was distributed on Israeli mobiles without being pushed by any marketing or advertising, just through word of mouth. Having in mind the numbers of “Big Brother” – a well known Western format and extensively advertised on TV- that scored more than 150.000 views, the Syrian soap opera reached a great result.

This shows the potentialy in terms of TV market of the Arab-Israeli community (the so called “tamania wa arb3aeen”) that has always been neglected. This community wants to be connected to rest of the Arab world, also by sharing the same TV products that all the Arabs are viewing. The mobile seems to be the best media to provide this sense of belonging, as it is more personal, and also can solve the problems of some rural areas that are not served by cable infrastructures.

The Israeli case also proves once more the success of “Bab al Hara”, which is now going towards its 4th season of broadcasting.

Mediaoriente al Meet the Media Guru di Milano, 4 nov. 7pm

Per chi si trova a passare per Milano vi segnalo quest’iniziativa alla quale sono stata invitata: Meet the Media Guru, dove domani parleremo di MediaOriente e web 2.0 nel mondo arabo. Porterò un pò di interessanti materiali televisivi “raccattati” dalle tv arabe, sperando di sorprendevi mostrando un mondo arabo che si interroga sui rapporti con l’Occidente, sul terrorismo, sulla democrazia. E che mostra anche un lato sorprendentemente autoironico.