Syrians and the “surplus” of Syrian drama

Ramadan started few days ago, and this is a very different one this year. Over the past years I`ve tried to report as much as I could about the most interesting TV drama productions in the Region and to discuss important issues related to musalsalat industry in the Arab world (financing, advertising etc). But this year is different. And even for professional media analysts it`s still very hard to watch Ramadan musalsalat without thinking of the events unfolding in the Region, particularly in Syria.

These days Ramadan is celebrated all across the world and Damascus, the hub of Syrian TV fiction production -and my second home, too-, is witnessing clashes in the streets, bombing, shelling.

While watching the Syrian musalsalat production for 2012 -which I will try to review in a later post-  I can`t help going back with my memory to an episode of comedic musalsal Buqa`t al-Daw (Spotlight), the famous Syrian TV drama which sprouted from the very brief opening of the Damascus Spring 2000-2001. Everybody, at the time, had strong hopes that the country would go under serious reforms, both economic and political. The Damascus Spring was soon over but the musalsal went on, for many seasons (it has now reached its 9th).

The episode I would like to tell you about is called Al-sirr (The secret) and was part of Spotlight`s season 7 (aired two years ago, in 2010, before the uprising started). 

A meeting is held between Syrian officials and representatives of foreign countries from the five continents in order to exchange experiences in managing a country`s economy. The foreigners are very interested to learn how Syria can manage its economy so well. Syrian officials are keen on explaining their secret which lies in the “excess value”, “surplus” (qyma za`da). A scene features a citizen who has to submit documents to a public official. The official cost of this operation is 50 Syrian Pound but the citizen pays 950 Syrian Pound in excess (qyma za`da), in order to have the public employee speeding up his documentation.

In the following scene a mazot seller meets up with a citizen shivering for the cold. The mazot is sold above its real price, so the excess value which was paid in the former scene has been re-gained. This is the shared chain (silsila mushtaraka) that lies at the basis of economic circulation in Syria. Syrian officials that are featured in the musalsal proudly explain that this “secret” (the title of the musalsal episode is al sirr, the secret) finally secures economic balance, as everybody pays the qyma za`da in order to get services, while the state pays nothing.

The musalsal concludes that the production of state economy (intaj al iqtisaad al-dawla) is based on what the citizens produce (intaj al muwatin): this process triggers a virtuous circle where the citizen, even if only paid 200 dollars monthly, will make profit at someone else`s expenses, and the latter will do the same, until the chain will be complete. Within this informal economy a citizen can earn even 10 times more his official salary, without being a burden for the state.

Through comedy and laughter, the musalsal reminds citizens that they are all part of the system and complicit with it. Corruption can be denounced and individuals can be removed, but resisting the system that generates that corruption is useless, since everybody is part of it. Every citizen is a gear of this mechanism and contributes to its survival; as the system`s survival is intertwined with personal survival.

This is how Syrian citizens have been constantly reminded, as audiences of tanwiri (enlightened) inspired media content like Spotlight and many other Syrian “neo-realist” musalsalat, to be culpable of perpetrating the social diseases that afflict Syrian society. 

How different it is to watch al sirr right now, in 2012..

Syrian people have become aware that denouncing corruption was a trick perpetrated by the system itself, helped by seemingly progressive media content. Let`s not forget that the production company who has been producing Spotlight for 9 years, Syrian Art Production International, is owned by Mohamed Hamsho, former Syrian MP and involved in different business deals with the Assad`s family.

Encouraging laughter over social and political problems was a way to relief Syrian citizens but also to remind them that any form of resistance was impossible, as they were complicit with the corrupted system and its rotten mechanisms. If there is an already accomplished result of the 2011 Syrian uprising, it is that Syrians have clearly refused these accusations to be a gear of the corrupted system. They have refused to be assimilated to it as its natural component. They have said no to corruption as a  part of their daily lives and their society`s life.  

Syrians won`t be laughing again.

Colloquial Arabic in Syrian TV Drama

Tomorrow 8th June at 8pm the Danish Institute in Damascus (situated in the beautiful area of Suq as-souf in Old Damascus) is hosting a lecture on “Colloquial Arabic in Syrian TV Drama” (Arabic only). Mr Wafik al Zayim, the famous actor who plays “Abu Hatem” character in “Bab al hara” TV series, is also a TV drama writer specialized in “Damascene drama” type and he is currently working on the script of next Bassam al Malla`s (Bab al Hara creator and director) TV musalsal “Khan al Shukr” (shooting should start right after Ramadan).

Mr Wafik has been studying the relation between Syrian colloquial Arabic (3ammia suryia) and TV production. He has just completed a dictionary of old Damascene terms that will be soon be released on Panarb market.

On “Bab al hara”… and the culture of Arab journalism

DDR wa rijal al hara, picture courtesy of Hikmet Daoud

Actually I didn`t want to write about this topic now, since there are much more important things happening in the world (particularly in the Arab world, see Gaza and #Flotilla issue), but some people made me think that I should anyway write down some remarks about the following issue.

So I was lucky enough, thanks to director Mo`min al Malla and his team, to follow some shootings of “Bab al hara 5” which are being held at Qaryia Shamyia, a “fake” Damascus that has been rebuilt out of the (real) chaotic and messy Damascus – a place where you basically can enjoy “Sham without Sham”, the beauty of its souqs, houses, squares, without having to bear with the noise, the dirtiness, the traffic, and all the “disadvantages” of a real big capital-. A  “sanitized” version of the Syrian capital that has been built for the sake of tourists and grown bigger and bigger after the increasing success of  “Bab al hara” (its headquarters studios are there).

“Bab al hara 5“`s shootings were a great experience from many points of view, both from sociological to strictly “TV production” perspective. It was extremely important for my PhD research and also for the great people I was able to meet there, actors, crew, and particularly Hikmet Daoud (the guy who designed all the costumes and created the “Bab al hara” look). More on my  PhD thesis, inshallah..and actually I will present a paper on “Bab al Hara” at WOCMES conference next July which then I will publish here, too.

What I want to talk about now is the article that was published on few days ago. The journalist  interviewed me during the shootings and was very kind to me. Of course, misunderstandings happen all over the world, and usually the person who is interviewed is never happy to read his/her words once published cause he/she fells betrayed by the journalist.

I don`t feel this intentionally betrayed but I just want to underline some points that can look a bit “naif” on my side in the Arabic text (and it can be cultural or even language misunderstanding).

First of all, I`d like to point out that I didn`t get to “Bab al hara” because of the many articles I`ve read on Italian press as the MBC article says!

I`ve been studying Arab media for the past 10 years and more, I do read Arabic press, travel extensively around the Arab world, and for somebody who has studied the structure of Panarab media for a decade and published academic books about Al Jazeera (Al Jazeera. Media e societa` arabe nel nuovo millennio, Bruno Mondadori publisher,Milano, 2005), MBC, Orbit and ART (Media Oriente, edizioni Seam, Roma, 2000) it`s kind of natural at some point to start studying the content of media.

TV fiction (musalsalat) is an important part of this content, and I`ve been studying them (not only “Bab al hara” but the whole phenomena of Syrian drama) for a while now. Western press -not Italian!- mostly UK and US based has paid some attention of course to “Bab al hara” as a sociological phenomena. And in fact, what I was trying to convey to the journalist -and also to the crew of “Bab al hara“- is that myself as a Western researcher I`m interested to the financial, sociological (and linguistic) aspects of the drama, not to its characters or what did “fulan” or if Abu Shab is coming back or not:)

As for the specific of its linguistic aspects, I`ve been talking a lot about this issue particularly with Ustaz Wafiq al Zaiim who performs “Abu Hatem’. He is very much into “drama shamyia” and the use of Syrian dialect into musalsalat (next week we are hosting his conference on this very topic at the Danish Institute in Damascus). He recognizes that the dialect used by “Bab al hara” is a “standardized” one, who should be made understandable by everybody (and, I add this, particularly since its main audience is in the Gulf countries). We have been discussing a lot about the use of words like “3aghid”, etc. and its implications, linguistically and culturally speaking, and I`m grateful to him for his insights.

What the article doesn`t specify is why -as I said- most of the audience of “Bab al hara” -and the audience which counts- is in the Gulf, and not in Syria. In Old Damascus, where I do live, I`ve  never ever found anybody who agrees with the version of “damascenity” that is promoted by “Bab al hara”. Not even a shop owner of Old Damascus -and I`m not talking about press or university professors, elite i3ani- agrees that lifestyle in Old Damascus has ever been as the one “Bab al hara” advertises. Different people I`ve spoken with in the Old City of Damascus -people who don`t know each other- quote as the best representation of Old Damascus the one done by an almost unknown musalsal called “Al hsrum al shami”. This musalsal shows a very different Old Damascus, an “hara” which is quite far from the “hara” depicted by “Bab al hara” and its values of unity, solidarity, etc. Some people would quote “Ayyam shamyia” , by “Bab al hara” creator , director Bassam al Malla (the “architect” of drama shamyia`s success). But I would guess -just guess, nobody has numbers in his hands, as we all know that Arab TV studies do lack independent audience data so far- that the majority of “Bab al hara” audience is in the Gulf, and it is the Gulf to be so attracted by this “sanitized” and nostalgic vision of the past, much more than the Damascene or Syrian people.

Having said that -and having again pointed out that my PhD is on the Syrian drama industry, and not only on “Bab al hara” which, by the way, is a very interesting “industry case”-, I think there are many good sociological and media related reasons to study “Bab al hara” and not to “snob” it, as many wrongly do. It is certainly a media phenomena that deserves to be analysed in-depth. Anyway, I have to remark that among Syrian journalists this “objective” and sociological approach is still far to be accepted, as they are still caught in the “it is art -or not art” problem which I think we European have passed through many years ago, and “put into archives” after the 68th cultural revolution and its relation between the alleged “low-pop culture” vs the alleged “high culture”.

But the most important remark I`d like to make in respect to this article is that I don`t think “Bab al hara” represents a “barrier” to the culture of globalization, or something that fiercely opposes to it. On the contrary, “Bab al hara” is the prototype of globalization and of how it has penetrated so deeply in the entire world -including the Arab world- with its consumption values (media consumption being probably of the strongest among those values).

“Bab al hara” is a consumption spectacle made for media audiences in the very era of globalization. In my view, the typology of “return to the past” and “its golden values” of vicinity, proximity, solidarity, etc. is a creation that suits perfectly in the era of globalization and global consumption rather than a quest for “authenticity” and “non-contradictory culture”. We all know that every period has got conflict and contradictions, but the Past is always much charmer than the future, cause it cannot come back and it is always depicted with “nostalgia” and idealized, the same as “Bab al hara” does -and Qariya Shamyia does , too, emptying the “real” Sham from its mess and contradictions of present time-.

Unfortunately -and that`s another misunderstanding in the article- Old Damascus is starting to become similar to “Bab al hara” and Qariya Shamyia, i.e. “sanitized”‘. More and more restaurants and hotels are appearing for the sake and consumption of tourists and TV audiences that come to Syria to see the “real” Bab al hara. So the “real” Old Damascus is starting day by day to look little by little like the “Old Damascus done for TV”. But I guess that this,too, is a typical phenomena of globalization and its consumption patterns.

These are just some thoughts, and a blog is not the right place where to start an academic discussion. For the moment, I`d just like to thank the people of “Bab al hara” for making this “participant observation” possible. And next time I`ll do an interview I`ll remember to ask for the final text before publishing just to make sure there are no misunderstandings.

What actually has surprised me the most is not even this misunderstanding on MBC, but the fact that immediately after I saw the same article published on many different websites (Discover Syria, Damas Post, etc) with my name and the same picture taken by my friend Daoud, with just a quick remind of the “m b c net” website from where it was taken, but without any link and copying exactly most of the content of the MBC article without quotation…but I guess this is part of the problem I`ve already underlined in the previous post about “copy and paste culture” so much widespread in the Arab world…

Najdat Anzour`s new TV drama to set Ramadan 2010 on fire

A very hot and dry summer afternoon in Damascus. The kind of weather which pushes you to be indolent. But in this tiny Maliki apartment there is even more activity that usual. Two workstations in parallel are editing ما ملكت أيمانكم” (“Whatever you possess”) and ذاكرة الجسد” (“Memory in the flesh”), the latest TV drama  works by Syrian director Najdat Anzour.

I`ve been knowning Najdat for some years now and I`ve always admired his dedication and passion, whatever kind of work he does. This can`t be more true this time when he is working on such different contexts and stories. “Memory in the flesh” is inspired by the novel of Algerian writer Ahlam Musteghranemi, one of the more appreciated Arab writer of the last century, and  a very unconventional female personality. This 30 episodes TV drama is been produced by Abu Dhabi TV channel with 25% participation of Egyptian Media City, a miracle that only somebody like Najdat could orchestrate. It is very rare indeed to see Egyptian capital producing something that is shot by a Syrian -this has happened previously, as in the case of the Syrian Hatem Ali`s “King Farouk”, but the final result was rather a “made in Egypt”-.

Anzour is working with Syrian (like Syrian star Jamal Suleiman), Lebanese, Tunisian, Algerian actors to create what could be described as a “Panarab” TV fiction production, something that tackles regional interests and issues, as the Algerian liberation war, the Lebanese civil war, etc. And, of course, there is a lot of beautiful literature taken from Musteghranemi`s work. Dialogues are in classical Arabic, as Algerian dialect is still not widely understood at a regional level as much as Egyptian or Syrian.

While he is still shooting “Memory in the flesh” between France, Lebanon, UK and Algeria, Anzour is at the final editing stage of “Whatever you posses” (the meaning of ا ملكت أيمانكم” being wider than this, as it is a Quranic expression coming from the “Sura of the Women” that has got a lot of religious nuances). This musalsal, which is also due to be launched during next Ramadan, is in a way at the opposite end of “Memory in the flesh”. Whereas the latter comes from a piece of literature, is set in the past, speaks Classical and addresses Panarab issues, “Whatever you possess” is a social drama very much set in a contemporary Damascus and spoken in Syrian dialect. It deals with issues like relation between men and women, sex, religion, corruption, poverty and extreme richness, all elements that are embedded together in contemporary Syrian daily life. Najdat and his “monteur” show me two finished episodes and I can`t prevent myself from thinking that this is going to set next Ramadan on fire.

Contemporary Damascus is shown with all its contradictions without any filter: one of the most ancient urban settlement in the history of humanity,and at the same time a tiny village where rural values of tradition and its preservation still seem to prevail over modern urban values.

This contrast is visible in everything from the locations to the characters, with a particular emphasis on females. Rich “enfants gates” that spend their time on the border of a swimming pool in their rich father`s villa, talking about make up and coiffeur, whispering on their fancy mobiles and elaborating on the latest fashion magazine coming from the West – and young educated girls that are pushed to sell their bodies to pay for their parents` health treatments-. The middle class is astonishingly absent from this picture -as it is, in reality, fading away from Syrian society class composition-. Middle class is shrinking everywhere in the entire world, as a result of the globalisation process that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer: but in Syria this process dramatically involves all the values that middle class traditionally brings to society, its dedication to education and hard work, its belief in self-initiative and self-making, its urban background. The females protagonists of “Whatever you possess” -Leila, Alia and Nadine- represent three prototypes well alive in contemporary Syrian society. Their complicated relations with men are mostly based on exploitation, submission, dependence, inequality, frustration and on a unbalanced exercise of power. To this respect, every social class seems to be the same -no differences between the rich and poor, the shrinking middle class being even more desperate as more conscious of the process that is leading to its own disappearance-.

Whatever you possess” is made up of luxury villas and poor suburbs, smoky bars full of belly dancers and Qoranic schools, women dressed in “total black” and kinky “femme fatales” going from one party to another. It shows a society which is totally permeated with liberalization and globalization but hasn’t developed its “anti corps” , being only able  to read this process in financial terms (i.e. being empowered to buy the latest luxury car or mobile) but not in cultural ones.

I remember Najdat showing the promo of “Whatever you possess” to a Danish non Arabic speaking audience in Copenhagen. The results was amazing, as people could understand -through the powerful visual language – the story he wants to tell, maybe much more universal than as it looks at a first glance.

During the past few years, Najdat Anzour has smartly dedicated his career at “universal” issues that are of Westerners` and Arabs` common concerns, I.e. terrorism, relations between religions, issues like the Danish cartoon controversy. I`ve always found this very interesting but I have to say that I`m happy to see “Whatever you possess” focusing on Syrian society, debating about it, pointing out at its problems. Being more local he has probably become more universal, and even more understandable by us Westerners, even the non Arabic speakers, as those folks in Copenhagen. There is a lot of criticism in Syria in respect to this kind of “Syrian neorealism” featuring all the problems and the contradictions of the Syrian society on Regional TV screens, moreover during the holy month of Ramadan. People say those fictions don`t offer any solution for social change, just portray the bad side of a society. However, I think that through TV works as the latest Anzour`s, people could at least become conscious of some issues and realize they do exist, instead of using TV just as a way to escape in an imagery past that existed once or probably never existed.

“Whatever you possess” by N. Anzour, 2010

pictures from

An eye on the Mossad:Najdat Anzour’s last provocation for Ramadan 2009

Ramadan is about to start, so it is the TV battle that every year surrounds Muslisms’ holy month.

One of the most promising (in terms of raising polemics) musalsal this year will be Najdat Anzour‘s ” Rigal Al Hasm(Decisive Men). Anzour is not new to provocation, having directed many controversial musalsalat on hot topics such as  Al Hur al ayn” (Virgins of Paradise) – on Islamic terrorism and suicide attacks in Saudi Arabia – or “Saqf al alam” (The roof of the world) – on the Arab anger after Danish Jyllands Posten had published Prophet Mohammad’s cartoons-.

But this year musalsal -which is going to be aired by Abu Dhabi TV during the soon to be started month of Ramadan – deals with a real “hot potato”: the Israeli intelligence, the Mossad, and Syrian-Israeli relations during the 1967 war, particularly after the occupation of the Golan heights.

The musalsal focuses on the story of a Syrian man -played by Syrian star Bassel Al Khayat– who seeks revenge for his  family that was killed in the bombardments of Golan. He goes then to Europe where he is able to infiltrate the Mossad with the help of the Israeli female agent Mirage. The story therefore moves to Israel where Bassel is quickly integrated into the Mossad and its interior conflicts and corruption. He starts a relation with Mirage, then with another Israeli female agent, played by Miss Lebanon Nadine, always keeping in his mind his family and his girlfriend left in Syria waiting for him. The plot is somehow interesting but the most interesting part is how Anzour has filmed the musalsal.

Last April, when I was in Syria, I got the chance to be invited to the shootings taking place in Syrian coastal town of Tartous.  The way Najdat and his Jordanian costume designer Hala have recreated the ’68 atmosphere in the West Bank is somehow interesting. They show an intense nightlife, bars and clubs full of music, beautiful women dressed as all the Europeans used to dress during the 68 revolution, an “easy going” and pretty libertine lifestyle. The setting is a kind of “pop” as you can see from the pictures here below.




Another very interesting part is how he worked on the linguistic part. Having decided to shoot some parts in Hebrew, there was a “linguistic coach” on the set to train actors with the right Hebrew pronunciation (he is a Syrian who has spent a number of years in an Israeli prison). Then, as usual in Anzour’s sets, there were a lot of foreigners -mostly British people- that he invited to Syria to bring technical equiments -like the “truth machine” to shoot the scene when Bassel is questioned by the Mossad about his real identity- and also to play some “cameo” roles.

Being asked about the choice of the topic, Najdat states that he wanted to focus more on the “human side” of the story, rather than on the political one.  He insists he wanted to show the corruption and the intrigues that are hidden under what is considered one of the most powerful intelligence service in the world.

Only the screen could tell us what the result will be, and how “Rigal Al Hasm” will tackle the complicate Arab-Israeli issue. But something is for sure: this year the Mossad will have a face for the Arab audience, which is also the beautiful face of Miss Lebanon. They will see human relations -even if based on lies and double cross- developing between Syrians and Israelis, they will hear Hebrew on their Ramadan TV screen (altough this is not new, having the Syrians done many other musalsalat on the Arab-Israeli issue with some original dialogues in Hebrew).

This is for sure enough to have -at least- some major newspapers and talk shows talking about the musalsal.

“Rigal Al Hasm“, produced by businessman Hany Mokhlef (for a big amount of cash: rumors say between 2.5 and 5 million dollars), will be broadcasted on Abu Dhabi TV and many other Arab channels.


Al Jazeera, soap opera arabe e Obama al Festival del Cinema Africano di Milano

Per chi di voi si trova in zona Milano, ci sono una serie di appuntamenti “arabi” che vorrei segnalare.

Intanto la 19esima edizione del Festival del Cinema Africano di Milano (23-29 marzo) che inizia oggi. Quest’anno il lavoro fatto da Alessandra Speciale e Annamaria Gallone, direttrici del Festival, è veramente eccezionale, considerando i tempi cupi che stiamo attraversando in Italia, in termini sia di finanziamenti alla cultura che di sensibilità verso le culture “altre”. Il programma è ricchissimo:

Mohamed Challouf ha invece curato, sempre all’interno del Festival, una sezione dedicata ad “Al Jazeera, l’occhio arabo sul mondo” che comprende la proiezione di preziosi documentari e programmi della rete del Qatar.  La sezione ospiterà inoltre una tavola rotonda, curata sempre da Mohamed, alle ore 17 di giovedi 26 marzo presso lo spazio Oberdan, alla quale partecipa anche Ahmad Mahfouz , il direttore del Documentary Channel di Al Jazeera.


Inoltre, verrà proiettata per la prima volta in Italia la soap opera di produzione giordana Al Ijtiyah (l’Invasione) vincitrice dell’Emmy Award 2008.


Sabato 28, sempre all’interno del Festival, presentiamo il nostro libro su Obama:

Sabato 28 marzo – ore 17.00 Libreria FNAC Milano

In occasione della sezione tematica su Al Jazeera, il Festival del Cinema Africano di Milano presenta il libro

“Un Hussein alla Casa Bianca. Cosa pensa il mondo arabo di Barack Obama” (Odoya, 2009)

a cura di Donatella Della Ratta e Augusto Valeriani.

Obama ha passato l’infanzia in un paese musulmano, l’Indonesia, e il suo secondo nome è un nome arabo, Hussein. Può il nuovo presidente americano rappresentare l’interlocutore giusto per il Medio Oriente? Su questo gli arabi e i loro media, dai blog ad Al Jazeera, si interrogano in questi mesi. Gli autori del libro analizzano i media arabi, raccolgono le opinioni di giornalisti, studiosi, uomini d’affari e persone comuni in Medio Oriente e in Usa, offrendoci una prospettiva sui futuri rapporti tra Stati Uniti e mondo arabo.

Alla presenza degli autori e di Khaled Fouad Allam, sociologo e autore dell’introduzione del libro.


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.

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.