Egypt TV drama reflects artistic decline

Sunday 26/06/2016
Billboards of Ramadan TV dramas on the 6 October Bridge in downtown Cairo.

Cairo - Ramadan is drawing to a close and with it scores of soap operas on Egyp­tian television are wrap­ping up but critics said what they have seen in those works suggests the programmes have not been worth the money spent on them.

“I have seen nothing so far but mediocre serial dramas that do lit­tle to represent Egyptians as a peo­ple,” said Nader Khalifa, a critic and scriptwriter. “The artistic qualities of the works I have seen fill me with certainty that the age of Egyptian drama is over.”

More than 30 serials are being shown in Egypt during Ramadan, a traditional time for airing new pro­grammes.

Soap operas aired this year range from the comic to the poignant. One of the serials dramatises the life story of Egyptian pop singer Mohamed Mounir. Another — star­ring comedian Adel Emam — tells the story of a man who hates spend­ing money and, in a humorous way, is a pain to all around him. There is also a comedy about the adventures of three friends who go from job to job, leading to one failure after an­other.

According to media reports, $281 million was spent on the produc­tion of these works. Emam was said to have been paid $4.5 million to ap­pear in Maamoun and His Partners.

Ghada Gabara, the former dean of the Egyptian Film Institute, said she closely watched early episodes of most of this year’s dramas and that she concluded Egyptians are not capable of producing quality any more.

“We are losing our competitive edge, not only inside our country, but all through the Arab world,” Gabara said. “There were days when viewers in other Arab countries had their eyes glued to the screens for hours to watch Egyptian works.”

Egypt was once considered the Hollywood of the East and the cultural powerhouse of the Arab world. Part of the country’s cultural strength emanated for the quality of its soap operas, films and songs.

Now, works coming from Turkey and Syria are attracting attention, with their stars becoming house­hold names in Egypt.

Khalifa attributes the decline in Egyptian TV drama to what he de­scribes as the “withdrawal” of the government from TV production.

“The government is leaving the job of TV drama production to producers and private production companies that care only about the financial, not the artistic, returns of the works they produce,” Khalifa said. “This is very dangerous.”

The government used to have production companies that pro­duced quality soap operas. About 15 years ago, those companies stopped production as part of an economic liberalisation drive that put more operations into private hands in most sectors of the economy.

Works produced now bring a lot of money to producers, Gabara said.

“You can see this in the unend­ing commercial breaks that inter­rupt the action several times during broadcast,” Gabara said. “Advertis­ers pay huge money to have their ads viewed by the largest number of people but I was hoping that they would pay attention to the quality of the works as they do the names of the stars who appear in these works.”