Ramadan television dramas combat terrorism

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

A scene from the television series 'Al-Qaysar', which exposes the crimes committed by extremist groups. [Photo courtesy of Al-Qaysar producers]

A scene from the television series 'Al-Qaysar', which exposes the crimes committed by extremist groups. [Photo courtesy of Al-Qaysar producers]

Television dramas broadcast during Ramadan can be an important tool in combating terrorism, especially with the rise of the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL), security analysts told Al-Shorfa.

These programmes are popular among all social classes, they said, making them the subject of debates within families and a valuable means for exposing the truth about these groups and the crimes they commit in the name of religion.

"The terrorism issue has become a topic of interest among TV drama producers in Egypt and the Arab world," Egyptian journalist Alsayyed Abdel Fattah Ali told Al-Shorfa. "This interest began a few years ago and escalated with the surging wave of terrorism that peaked with the emergence of ISIL."

The most popular of these programmes is the Saudi series "Selfie", which has returned for a second season this year after a successful first season, he said.

"Selfie" addresses the cause and spread of terrorism and ways to eradicate it, focusing "on the youth and the total brainwashing they are subjected to by terrorist groups that turn them into full-fledged criminals", Ali said.

The first part of the series foresaw the possibility of a son killing his father on the orders of a terrorist emir -- an event which occurred in real life in the wake of a "loyalty and disavowal" doctrine promoted by a radical cleric linked to ISIL.

Another series, "Mamoun et al", stars actor Adel Imam and tackles these important issues in the form of a social comedy, Ali said.

The series addresses "religious intolerance and misinterpretation of religious teachings, as this is one of the most important issues sweeping the Arab region", he said, noting that Imam was one of the first Arab actors to confront terrorism in his dramatic and cinematic works, and has done so since the 1980s.

Exposing the ugly face of extremism

In "Al-Qaysar", actor Yousef al-Sharif is featured in the role of the emir of one of the extremist groups operating in Egypt's Sinai.

The series "exposes the real criminality that pervades the minds of this segment of the population and the unlawful means they use to achieve their goals and objectives", he said, which includes the killing of civilians and security personnel.

TV dramas can contribute to counter-terrorism efforts in various ways, said Ali Fayyad, a programme planner at a privately owned satellite channel.

Many channels are keen to participate in the "educational campaign and war on terrorism by showing its ugly face", he said.

Additionally, he said, covering terrorism-related topics can lead to high ratings in Ramadan, as all content -- whether news, documentaries, dramas or educational programmes -- that addresses the issue ranks high in terms of viewer interest.

Series that address terrorism are broadcast "at peak viewing times -- from iftar to suhour -- which are the most expensive for advertisers, indicating their importance to the channels and viewers alike", Fayyad said.

Immunising minds against extremism

"Arabic TV dramas inevitably must be an integral part of the war on terrorism," said Mazen Zaki, director of the new media department at Ibn al-Waleed Centre for Studies and Field Research.

Some TV drama productions have been successful in recent years in getting the counter-terrorism message out, he said, though more work remains to be done.

"Ramadan TV dramas are unique in that they are one of the social rituals of this month," he noted. "TV series have very high viewership in the Arab region, where they are watched collectively as families get together during this month."

Families watch television together before and after iftar, at evening get-togethers and during suhour, Zaki said, adding that this yields a big payoff with respect to "immunising minds against terrorist ideas, thanks to the family discussions that take place during and after the show".

Especially significant, he said, is the fact that viewers belong to all social classes, as people from all strata of society have seen their young people targeted by terrorist groups.

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