Re-enchantment of Arab Television

Just a reminder of this conference organized by Ehab Galal, my colleague at Copenhagen University, Denmark. Deadline is on 30 October so hurry up!

CfP:Re-enchantment of Arab Television

Copenhagen University, Denmark

The New Islamic Public Sphere Programme RE-ENCHANTMENT OF ARAB TELEVISION:

Call for conference paper and subsequent book proposals

The New Islamic Public Sphere Programme invites proposals for papers at the Conference on
Re-enchantment of Arab Television: Audience responses and identity constructions
to be held in
Copenhagen, 27 ­ 29 May 2011

The main issue of this conference is how Arab audiences respond to religion and
religious programming on Arab television. A focus on Islamic programming is particularly
requested, but also papers on audience responses to other religious programming are
encouraged. In spite of the common recognition that the effect of media has to be
understood in the encounter between media discourse and audience responses, very often
the Arab television audiences seem to be perceived as a passive, impressionable and
homogenous mass. This raises the need for further and critical reception and audience
analyses taking the heterogeneity and transnationality of the Arab audiences into
account. Thus, the main objective of the conference, and subsequent book proposal, is to
gain new knowledge about the Arab audiences and how they make use of TV in their
construction, negotiation and rejection of religious identities and practices.

The conference objective is to present and discuss qualitative and comparative studies
of Arab television audiences. This approach raises questions related to media and
(religious) identity formation as well as a number of methodological questions of
general interest for media and cultural studies. Concepts like meaning making and
individual identity construction are introduced as key notions in general but three
interrelated analytical approaches are suggested for further exploration. Firstly,
audience identification with religious identity as collective memory constructed through
storytelling. Secondly, audience use of religious programming as an instrument to live
and identify transnationally. And, thirdly, audience interpretation of religious
programming as basis for resistance towards political hegemonies.
These topics will be investigated at three seminar sessions wherein the following
questions might be examined:

•       How does tthe audience integrate the mediatised form of religious storytelling
in its own identity discourse and how does the audience construct collective identity
through media use?
o       Arab/Muslim audience as an analytical and theoretical concept with a focus on
theoretical discussions hereof.
o       Media theory on Arab/Muslim audience responses with a focus on methodological
and analytical questions.
o       Case studies on audience responses using cases related to television.

•       How is the transnationality of the Arrab television practiced and consumed by
the audience and what does this add to the transnational perspective as a theoretical
perspective on religious and cultural identity?
o       The Arab/Muslim Diaspora and its TV media practices.
o       The construction of transnational communities as spatial and/or virtual

•       How do Arabs/Musslims in different societal contexts make use of religious
narratives offered by the Arab television to negotiate, reject, and contest cultural and
political ideas, values and identities?
o       Arab/Muslim audience as a political public using religious television as source
for opposition and resistance.

Submission of proposals:
Abstracts (300 ­ 500 words) should be sent by 30th October 2010 too Ehab Galal at
(ehab AT

Abstract, following this order: author(s), affiliation, email address, title of
abstract, body of abstract, short CV (max. 150 words).

A full draft paper of 8000 words should be submitted no later than 1st May 2011.

Selection of the papers will be made on the basis of quality and relevance to the
conference themes. Only accepted papers will get an answer by the date mentioned below.
Selected papers will be published in a special volume in English.

o       Submission of abstracts: 30th October 2010
o       Notification of acceptance of abstracts: 1st December 2010
o       Submission of full papers: 1st May 2011

Financial and other support:
All participants will be provided basic accommodation free of cost for a maximum of
three nights for participants within Europe; for participants outside Europe individual
arrangement will be made.

For additional information:
Organizer Ehab Galal
Assistant Professor in Modern Islam and Middle Eastern Studies
Department for Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies
University of Copenhagen
Snorresgade 17-19
DK-2300 Copenhagen S
E-mail: ehab AT

The conference will take place under the auspices of The New Islamic Public Sphere
Programme at the University of Copenhagen. For further information, see:

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.

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.


Is religion a tv genre?

It seems that Algerian state run tv ENTV will open to a new Ramadan tailored tv genre: the Islamic reality show. Knights of the Quran is the new reality style tv programme but under a religious flavour. This time the participants -males and females- are competing in Quranic recitation rather than in pop songs. Quranic recitation is not new to tv screens expecially during Ramadan, but what sounds new is the format, which owes a lot to the reality show genre. Audiences can contribute from their homes to choose the best Quranic reader and the show also features competitors tours in religious locations across the Arab region, like the Al Qarawiin mosque in Fez, Morocco, the Al Zeituna mosque in Tunisia and the Al Azhar mosque in Egypt.  See the original article

on The National UAE to read the Arab media analyst Marwan Krady commenting on this.

While Algeria tv is investing in religious reality show, neighbouring Tunisia launches the first Tunisian religious channel, Hannibal Elferdaws (Hannibal Paradise). Investor is the local businessman Larbi Nasra, who founded Tunisia’s first private TV channel Hannibal in 2005. If for someone this is an attempt to teach young people a “moderate” version of Islam in order to discourage militant political Islamic groups, for others it’s just a sign that times have dramatically changed since former Tunisian president Bourghiba drunk an orange juice in the middle of Ramadan on tv declaring that “a modern nation cannot afford to stop for a month every year”.

Two-rooms and a kitchen better than a window on the Bosphorus??

Two-rooms and a kitchen is a local flavoured expression to describe Italian contemporary cinema (in my roman familiar dialect it will sound like “du’ camere e cucina”).

Why two-rooms and a kitchen movies have replaced Italian neorealism? Or, better said: why two-rooms and a kitchen movies have become the new Italian realism? As Italians, we have to ask ourselves why indoor claustrophobic familiar stories have become our daily life concern, instead of looking outside and going outdoor, as neorealism directors did teach us a while ago.

These days Italian media are unanimously applauding Italian movies at Venice film festival. Everybody seems to agree with the alleged fact that there is a re-birth of Italian cinema (a re-birth coming from a two-rooms and a kitchen delivery).

I am not a cinema expert but an eager “eater” of each kind of images. And these days I would have a question for Ferzan Ozpetek, a Turkish director who has been living in Italy for many years (and who’s now presenting in Venice his new movie Un giorno perfetto).

Turkey these days is a vibrant country in a great mood. And this great energy reflects on its audiovisual industry too.

As an Arab media watcher, I was charmed by the raising of the Turkish soap operas phenomena. Doubled in Syrian dialect, Turkish soap operas like Nour or Lost years are gaining an incredible audience success all across the Arab world. There are many reasons for this incredible boom –and many of them concerns some internal characteristics to Arab markets and Muslim societies- but I just would like to point out one thing which should be important for other countries, Italy too.

Though being tv works (which means serials), aimed at gaining audiences and ads time (which means commercially oriented), these soap operas have something more. They tell about a society which is in evolution, which is trying to bridge globalisation and local culture, progress and tradition, religious belief and liberalization, just as the charming Bosphorus river is bridging East and West in beautiful Istanbul. They are shoot in poor neighbours and luxury 5 stars hotels, in popular traditional coffee houses and brand new malls. They show the poorest working class and the richest one. They talk about illegal immigration and struggles against local and foreign mafia as well as foreign investments in the booming real estate industry in Istanbul. Their protagonists work in a cafeteria to pay their university studies or in the family fashion company just to have fun, drink champagne and go to trendy parties while they are making money indeed.

Why a clever Turkish director like Ferzan Ozpetek should do two-rooms and a kitchen movies instead of doing soap operas like these? I really don’t know. Maybe cause we still consider cinema as a work of art while tv is just a “bread-gaining” work? Maybe. But I don’t think so, especially when tv is well done.

And why our fellow Italian journalists (and all the media industry in Italy) are applauding the alleged re-birth of Italian movies inside this claustrophobic and self-referential space instead of going outside to see what’s happening in this big globalized world?

Maybe it’s because there are still stuck in two-rooms and a kitchen. And have lost the key to get out of it.