This is not the first time I`ve heard heavy critical statements on the way Bab al hara serial portrays women and their role in the society. The directors and many of the actors have tried many times -in public occasions- to “adjust” this belief. I met once Kamal al Murra, one of the writer of the musalsal, and, when asked this question (he must be tired of people asking why women are portrayed so badly) he answered very frankly that Bab al hara was not aiming at portraying the whole Syrian society. It was the story of just one little neighbourhood (hara) in Old Damascus and, despite the “hara” was an imagined one (iftiradiya) the social behaviour, the values and the lifestyle portrayed in it were exactly like in many others “harat sha`abiya ” at the time. He was referring to a low-class “hara” where you couldn`t expect to see elite behaviours or lifestyles, such as educated or “liberated” women.
In Bab al hara 5 episode broadcasted yesterday, the main topic was Hisam -the eldest son of the so madly popular Abu Hisam- desperately looking for a third wife. Hisam is already married twice but, as he points out: “I`ll have the first two wives taking care of the house and the children. I want to enjoy life with the third one”. In another scene his sister Bouran goes to visit their mother – that very same Souad who was divorced by the honourable Abu Hisam for having dared to express a different opinion from his- and asks her to mediate with her husband who wants their teenager daughter to get married. When Bouran tries to make him understand that she is “still playing”, he gets mad and screams that they are not supposed to pay forever in order to raise their daughter. In another episode, we see Bouran`s male son who goes to school -the “kuttab”- whereas his little sister stays home with mum and learn how to be a perfect housewife.
I don`t know in how many episodes -basically, every time somebody gets pregnant- all the men “order” their women to “deliver a boy”. Ironically enough, should this wish come true, al “hara” would be a male-only neighbourhood not able to reproduce itself without recurring to the “ghrarib” (the foreigner).
Almost at the same time slot Bab al hara 5 is broadcasted on MBC, its Pan Arab competitor Dubai TV broadcasts “Abuab al ghraim” (the doors of the cloud) directed by Syrian Hatem Ali. Despite the directors and many actors in the cast are Syrians, the spoken language of the musalsal is a very delicate kind of old fashioned Gulf dialect. The story is in fact inspired by Dubai ruler Sheikh al Maktoum`s poetry and set during the time when British occupation forced the local bedouin population to migrate.
The difference between “Abuab al ghraim”`s bedouins and “Bab al hara”`s urban population is enormous, particularly when it comes to women. Bedouin women are proud, fierce and bold. Their are very feminine but their attitude can be confrontational vis-a`-vis their men.
Watching this “bedouin drama” made me think to that”hara” in Damascus, the “oldest urban settlement in the world”, as all the Damascenes like to remind each foreigner.
The past is never “the Past” and everything we tell about “those times” is the result of a precise choice -being it intentional or unintentional- that we are making “right now”.
Precisely for this reason, the “hara” of the oldest city in the world can be much less “urban” than a bedouin camp.
Interestingly enough, both of them are “made in Syria”.
Me with some “Bab al hara” women at Bab al hara 5 shootings, May 2010, Damascus.