Once again, Egyptian comedian and TV host Ramez Galal has found himself in hot water over a Ramadan prank show. This time, however, he is facing accusations unlike ever before, including warnings from psychiatrists about the potential damage to viewers.
Produced by Saudi MBC Network and aired on both MBC1 and its Cairo-based channel MBC Misr, his show – Ramez Is Officially Crazy – is based around a fake torture prank.
The show tricks Egyptian and Arab celebrities into attending what they think will be a talk show in Dubai, only to find themselves strapped into a moving chair and ordered by Galal to repeat phrases glorifying him or demeaning themselves.
If they refuse, they are threatened with electric shocks or a live snake, or other humiliations.
The first episode, featuring actress Ghada Adel, created huge anger and concern on social media. In one scene, while strapped to the chair, Galal forces her under threat of electric shock to call herself a dog.
NGOs Safe Children and 7emyaa Children have issued statements condemning the programme, describing it as dangerous and saying that it supports bullying and normalises torture.
Egypt’s famous Abbassia Psychiatric Hospital has also issued a statement condemning the show, describing it as a “psychological threat” to the mental health of Egyptian citizens, especially given the current pandemic situation.
“We found the TV show to contain a lot of violence, torture, mockery and disrespect for guests, as well as savouring the pain caused to others in a way that defies humanity,” the hospital said in its statement.
The statement also takes issue with the name of the show, saying it stigmatises mental illness and has an extremely bad influence on viewers, including children and teenagers.
There is no age advisory restriction on the TV show.
The hospital also said that the actions of the TV host, which exhibit sadistic and narcissistic characteristics, could normalise sadism, torture and narcissism in society, especially among young people.
It asked the prosecutor general and the High Media Council to immediately investigate the TV show in order to suspend it.
This is the first time Abbassia Psychiatric Hospital has issued a statement like this concerning a TV show.
The media professions syndicate has also issued a statement, asking MBC Network to stop broadcasting it immediately as it threatens human rights.
Several complaints have been made to the prosecutor general demanding the immediate suspension of the show.
A couple of lawsuits were filed in the past 48 hours at the administrative court, demanding the show’s suspension.
MP Nadia Henry was the first parliamentarian in the House of Representatives to raise concerns about the show, and present an official question to the prime minister and the information minister about the show.
She also demanded the prosecutor general suspend it.
Controversial lawyer and MP Mortada Mansour announced on Monday that he had sent a warning to the interior minister to “arrest Ramez Galal.”
Mansour, also the president of Zamalek Sports Club, demanded the health minister send Galal to a psychiatric hospital.
“Ramez Galal intentionally commits actions that are punishable by law,” he said in his statement, adding that “he officially admitted that he was mentally unstable on the show.”
Galal is no stranger to controversy; each Ramadan he stars in a show that involves pranks on celebrities, usually with a sadistic or humiliating theme.
However, the shows are among the most popular in the crammed Ramadan television schedule, attracting millions of viewers.
The episodes also attract huge numbers on YouTube; a two-minute clip from an episode featuring Egyptian actor Yasmin Sabry that aired on Sunday generated 14 million views.
This high viewership has earned the Egyptian actor a prime-time spot during iftar, the fast-breaking meal in Ramadan.
According to an advertising executive who asked to remain anonymous, for several years Galal’s shows have been one of the most expensive advertising TV spots in Ramadan due to the high viewership.
“He is in the same tier as a big star such as [Egyptian actor] Adel Emam and his TV series during iftar time when it comes to advertisers,” she told Ahram Online.
Galal has not yet commented on the criticism he has received this season.
On Tuesday, he posted a thank you note to fans on his official Twitter account after reaching 3 million subscribers on his official YouTube channel.
MBC Masr has also not yet issued a comment.
The candid camera prank show has been a staple of Ramadan television in Egypt since the 1980s, when it first appeared on state television.