Sitcom with all-male cast to air on Islamist satellite channel in Ramadan

Ahram Online, Thursday 13 Jun 2013

Art and drama without sin is the idea behind a new woman-free TV series scheduled to screen on Al-Hafez satellite channel this July; struggle between artists and culture ministry continues

Police keep peace between rival protests at Egyptian culture ministry, Tuesday 11 June, 2013. (Photo: Mai Shaheen)

Bloomberg reports that the first soap opera to feature an exclusively all-male cast will be screened on the Islamist satellite channel Al-Hafez during the holy month of Ramadan, which starts in the first half of July.

The show's director, Wagdy El-Araby, told Bloomberg that the idea was to preserve Islamic principles and refrain from sin, while providing audiences with art and drama.

The cast and crew of "Cafe Show" will be exclusively male. The storyline follows a group of male friends who sit in a traditional Egyptian coffeehouse and discuss contemporary social, political and economic matters.

Last Ramadan, an Egyptian satellite channel, Mariya TV, completely operated by women wearing the full face veil (niqab) was launched.

The channel is named "Mariya" after one of the Prophet Mohamed's wives, who was a Coptic Egyptian freed slave.

A full niqabi crew manages and operates the channel, including TV presenters, producers, directors and correspondents. Men are prohibited from working in or appearing on Mariya, or even participating in phone-ins during live programmes.

The head cover (hijab), the more common Islamic attire in Egypt, was banned on Egyptian TV channels during the Mubarak era. It was, however, common on a variety of religious satellite channels.

Since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, Egypt has witnessed the steady rise of Islamists to power. Under the Mubarak regime, Islamists were severely oppressed, with the Muslim Brotherhood officially banned.

Today, the tables have turned as the Brotherhood exercises a near monopoly on power — similar to, if not exceeding, that of Mubarak's National Democratic Party.

News of the male-only soap opera comes in the context of conflict between Egypt's artists and intellectuals and the country's Islamists.

A week-long sit in at the culture ministry and accompanying daily protests and subversive performances by Egypt's artists and intellectuals outside the building have expressed widespread opposition in the intellectual class to the policies of newly appointed Minister of Culture Alaa Abdel-Aziz, a Brotherhood loyalist.

On Tuesday, 11 June, members of Islamist groups arrived at the culture ministry in Cairo's Zamalek district, chanting in support of the minister. Minor scuffles occurred between the two sides, resulting in the injury of a policeman. The situation was contained and Islamists left the scene without further incident.

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