Paris – Ramadan is a high season for the Egyptian TV industry. During the Muslims’ holy month, Egypt’s work pace slows down, as the fast affects people’s ability to exert continuous efforts. After the fast ends in the evening, Egyptians sit on their couches for long hours to digest their heavy rewarding meals while enjoying TV programs. The Muslims’ holy month, thus, extends and deepens the effects of prime TV.
The TV series run in Ramadan are, generally, an accurate depiction of the different trends moving Egyptian society. Such series vary in their artistic quality. But they are culturally important and highly profitable, apart from the media buzz that they create. This year, one of these series, The Jewish Quarter, has managed to stir plenty of interest among Egyptians. It tells the story at the roots of the dramatic transformation of Egyptian society in the early 1950’s, from a nearly European and highly cosmopolitan culture that is marked by its exposure to the Mediterranean Basin into a radical and arabicized version of itself.
The story told by the series is that of Egypt’s loss of one of the most important elements of its society: the Egyptian Jews, who paid the price of the different political events of the late 1940’s and the early 1950’s. And above all, the series, produced in an Arabic country which went to war with Israel several times in the past century, is one which attempts to take an objective look at the Egyptian Jews. While it tells the story of the 1948 war between the Arabs and newly founded Israel, it does also tell the story of the Egyptian Jews who were collateral victims of that war. The Jewish Quarter also demonstrates how the anti-Semitic, racist and intolerant views of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was flourishing back then, helped damage the fabric of Egyptian society, as the Brotherhood spread its ugly views on the Jews and their religion.
Such views were once expressed by Mohamed Morsi before he became president of Egypt, leading the country for one year only between the summer of 2012 and that of 2013. The then relatively unknown Muslim Brotherhood politician called the Jews ‘The descendants of monkeys and pigs’. After he became president, a video circulated in which Morsi had made his hideous declaration. Egyptian intellectuals swiftly responded by pointing out that Morsi was an extremist who was not fit to run their county. Then, one of Egypt’s most prominent journalists, Ibrahim Issa, commented on Morsi’s shameful words by saying that they would cause any “normal human being” to feel disturbed. In what seems like an extrinsic allusion to this episode, one of the characters of the show, a young member of the Muslim Brotherhood, uses the same insult as Morsi’s to refer to his Jewish neighbors in the Jewish Quarter where Muslims, Christians, and Jews were living together.
The series goes beyond the simple question of the religious intolerance and the anti-semitism from which Egypt’s Jews have suffered, like all Jews have suffered the world over, to tackle social, political, and geopolitical issues that remain actual today. Two characters of the Jewish Quarter, a young Muslim military officer and a Jewish young woman, are in love. They want to get married but they face all sorts of obstacles which make their love as significant as it is symbolic of the human pains that fall upon perfectly tolerant people in a diverse society, in particular in times of war and political upheaval.
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