An Egyptian TV series is potentially straining ties between neighboring countries Egypt and Sudan.
Ramadan television series Abu Omar al-Masri, starring Ahmad Ezz, is prompting protests from Sudan. The Sudanese Foreign ministry has called on the Egyptian ambassador to come to Khartoum to protest the series as well.
Based on Ezz al-Din Shoukry Fisher’s novel by the same name, the show features Egyptian rebels hiding out in Sudan. It revolves around and Egyptian Islamist associate of Al-Qaeda and its founder Osama bin Laden. Both Osama bin Laden and his troops lived in Sudan in 1990s. They later relocate to Afghanistan once Khartoum expels them.
The Sudanese ministry believes there is no evidence showing that its Egyptian residents are involved in any terrorist activity. They worry that the show could prompt violence towards the Egyptians living there, or hurt the countries’ already strained relationship.
Because the series is “fabricating and promoting a negative image” of Sudan and the Egyptians that reside there, Sudan calls on the show to be banned. Sudanese citizens have already begun protesting the show.
Egypt’s ON Network denies that the show promotes anything negative. They stress that the show is simply for entertainment purposes, not to push an agenda. The channel clarifies that the events are based on the “imagination of its author.” Producers and the cast of the show even spoke out to say the plot is completely fictitious.
“The makers of the series realise well the role of art in bringing people closer, rather than creating a crisis against them,” says the statement from ON TV.
Relations between the 2 countries has not been great. Last year the Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir accused Egyptian intelligence services of supporting the opposition his troops were fighting in Darfur, a conflict zone.
There is currently a border dispute over a patch of the Red Sea territory. Cairo also accused Sudan on having involvement in the assassination of their then-president, Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak was assassinated in 1995 during a trip to Ethiopia.
The relationship has further deteriorated since Ethiopia’s construction of a dam along the Blue Nile River. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will possibly reduce waters from the Nile to Egypt. Cairo suspects that Sudan is in favor of its development.
According to Marwan Kraidy, a communications professor at the university of Pennsylvania, Ramadan is a huge television event. Arab-networks create media that largely appeals to a Muslim audience.
Not only is it an Islamic tradition, but it also shapes public opinion. Viewership is boosted, thus crafting a perfect time to push an agenda.
Last year during Ramadan, an Arab show on MBC debuted called, Black Crows. It was a dramatization of life under ISIS. It chronicles the story of a mother traveling to Syria after her son has run off to join the Islamic state.
“So, over the last few years a lot of these programs have taken on contemporary issues. This is not the first one that tackles terrorism and jihadi issues in Arab societies. But it’s the first one dedicated to Islamic State. It seems that it focuses on women living life under Islamic State,” Kraidy says, “It’s owned by Saudi Arabian interests. And what they’re saying about this show — they’re really defining it as an effort to fight Islamic State. So, there’s sort of a political countering extremism element to it. It’s not just entertainment.”
While many Ramadan TV shows focus on comedies or simply seek to profit during the month, it is not the first time a show has sought to analyze terrorism.
Black Crows, however, did not portray negative depictions of the rebels. The recruits were painted as victims. These young men have unfortunately fallen victim to something that they did not ultimately want. Meanwhile, the women are confident people who stand up to the corruption.