In Gaza, Bab Al-Hara still rules among musalsals

The Syrian soap opera Bab Al-Hara, the most watched musalsal of the 2007 Ramadan season, remains hugely popular throughout the Arab world. In the Gaza Strip, as our correspondent reports, it has affected many aspects of daily life.
bab al hara main picture
Bab Al-Hara remains one of the most popular Ramadan soap operas or musalsals. R.R.

GAZA, September 12, 2008 (MENASSAT) – The Gaza Strip has a reputation of being a little more conservative than the West Bank. So the Middle East Broadcast Corporation (MBC) knew they would attract more conservative Muslim viewers by airing the Sryian drama series Bab Al-Hara after Tarawih, the nightly prayer during the holy month of Ramadan.

And they were right.

MENASSAT spoke to a number of Gazans about the series, which has been the talk of the Strip, home to some 1.5 million Palestinians, during this year's Ramadan season.

'To hell'

One Gazan, Samar Ahad, was amazed to see the women in her peer group taking advantage of the breaks between Ramadan prayers to gossip about the drama. Some women told MENASSAT that they secretly hoped the Imams at their mosques would not extend the sermon so they wouldn't have to miss an episode.

"One time, the Imam scoffed at the series, and the 'sick' attention the Palestinians are showing it," Ahad said.

"The Imam criticized the believers saying, 'Leave Bab al-Hara and its children and women alone and pay attention to your religious deeds, your own homes and children because they are more important than these series which will only draw you to hell.'"

It appears that the Imam's words have had little impact.

Mouanness, who preferred not to use his family name, expressed his desire to marry a Syrian woman because of what he said was the alluring way Syrian woman are portrayed in Bab Al-Hara. What Mouanness particularly liked about the Syrian women in the series was their submissiveness and the way they cared for their husbands.

Mouanness' wife strongly objected to his opinion.

"All the women are alike in this series, and we have to realize that the series covers a specific period of time that is long gone. This is the satellite age," she said.

Bab Al-Hara (The Neighborhood's Gate) captured the hearts of the Arab world as soon as it was launched during the 2006 musalsal (Ramadan soap operas) season. It deals with daily life in a typical old Damascene neighborhood and it is safely set during the French Mandate of Syria period (1920-1946). In 2007, it was the most watched musalsal in the Arab world.

Cashing in

Supporters of the show told MENASSAT that Bab Al-Hara was important to Arab viewers because of the way it deals with sensitive historical references.

The first season, for example, tackled many issues that still have implications in the Levant and the Palestinian Territories today, such as Arab support for the Palestinian cause and the Arab resistance against the French.

The second season also dealt with crucial social matters, including the impact of divorce on the family and the importance of Arab solidarity in the face of colonialism.

The effects of Bab Al-Hara's popularity can even be seen on street level.

It is not uncommon in Gaza to come across see Palestinian screaming "Balila Balbalouk” (a famous sentence from the soap). Others like to impersonate the stars while playing after Iftar, the traditional daily breaking of the fast after sundown.

Even businesses are trying to cash in on Bab Al-Hara's success. Some snack companies in Gaza have started producing special brands of potato chips for kids under the name of Bab Al-Hara.

Ironically, the chip bags feature the face of a former cast member and one of the early stars of the series, Abu Issam, whose character was killed off at the end of the second season in 2007.

Another Gazan, Ghada Samman, told MENASSAT she felt much sorrow while watching the first episode of this, the third season, because of the absence of Abu Issam.

"I even stopped watching the series for two days before changing my mind when the plot got more exciting."

More from MENASSAT:

► Join in the debate on MENASSAT's Arab Media Community:

No social issues this Ramadan?

What are the reasons for the absence of programs and series that deal with current social issues in the Arab world in this year’s Ramadan television programming? Are the Arab spectators no longer interested in this kind of subjects and are they rather looking for series that take them back to past times in order to forget their difficult present? Or should we look for the answer with the producers who control what can and cannot be filmed and broadcast?  

Join in the debate in Arab Media Talk.

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