This year TV was even more important than usual during the holy month due to the lockdown but, just as in previous years, social media played the most prominent role in assessing and endorsing programmes.
Debates centred as much on the content of shows as the appearance of the stars whose sometimes inappropriately extravagant style against a backdrop of austerity — Reham Haggag as an advertising executive wearing the latest Dior, Gucci, Armani and Chanel in Mohamed Ali’s When We Were Younger, also starring Mahmoud Hemeida and Khaled Al-Nabawi – was the subject of criticism.
According to fellow actress Salwa Mohamed Ali’s Facebook, in one scene Haggag’s Dior purse made it impossible to concentrate on the acting: “It even took half the frame.”
But in the story of five American University in Cairo graduates who start working for their professor Selim Mansour, whose illegal activities come to the fore when a murder takes place, Haggag argued the bag and especially its colour played a crucial role in the scene. This was hardly convincing. One Facebook viewer wrote, “I work at an advertising agency just like the characters of When We Were Younger, but I have never seen a colleague or client dressed like that.”
The same criticism was levelled at Nelly Karim, who plays the lead, Sokkar, in Kamla Abu Zikri’s comic Multifaceted, starring Asser Yassin, Ola Roshdi, and Donia Maher. A professional swindler who joins forces with Omar (Yassin) and several others for bigger and bigger heists, Sokkar wears expensive clothes and accessories. This prompted Karim to appear in a $5,085 Gucci jacket.
As a wealthy woman being plotted against by her family, Ahd, in Sameh Abdel-Aziz’s The Betrayal of Ahd — starring Hala Shiha, Abeer Sabri and Bayoumi Fouad — long-time star Yousra too appeared in a Dolce & Gabbana dress, at one point also wearing an expensive wedding dress designed by top fashion designer Hani Al-Beheiri.
Perhaps Dina Al-Sherbiny’s appearance in Tamer Ashri and Ahmed Shafik’s Forgetfulness Game starring Ahmed Dawoud and Injy Al-Moqaddem was the most controversial of the lot, however. Playing Rukaya — who on waking up from a four-month coma that started when her husband was murdered remembers nothing of the past six years of her life — she appears with some 13 designer purses ranging in price from $1,570 to $5,500.
Another subject of social media criticism — and parody — was a four-minute advertisement for Madinaty, one of the compounds established by the Talaat Mustafa Group, headed by the Egyptian businessman Hisham Talaat Mustafa. Directed by Mark Chalhoub and costing LE300,000 (according to company statements), it shows drone images of the compound and interviews with overjoyed residents who, though supposedly middle-class, make offensively classist and discriminatory statements denigrating fellow citizens: “Everyone here looks the same”; “On my return from London Madinaty was the only place I could live in”; “I’m happy to be here for a year without stepping outside”...
Playing two lead roles in Yasser Fahmy’s The End — “Egypt’s first science fiction series”, also starring Amr Abdel-Gelil, Sahar Al-Sayegh, Ahmed Wafik, Nahed Al-Sebaai and Mohamed Lotfi — actor Youssef Al-Sherif, who has been known to counsel prayer rather than watching TV during Ramadan, courted controversy by reportedly refusing to engage in any tactile contact with female actresses, so that even when the character is injured his girlfriend does not touch him.
Through a fake Twitter account in the name of actress Sahar Al-Sayegh, the rumour spread to the effect that Al-Sherif, who plays an engineer engaged in solving the world’s energy problem and his robotic doppelgänger, made it a condition of his contract with the director that there should be no physical contact between him and any female actress.
Another moral issue concerned Cottonil’s underwear advertisement — featuring Jordanian actress Mais Hamdan lustfully viewing her handsome neighbour through binoculars — which having been accused of “violating personal dignity, Egyptian culture and social customs and traditions” ended up being cut, with two scenes removed following the Consumer Protection Agency threatening to take action against company head Bassel Samakia.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 June, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly