Satirising the Arabs' eternal dispute
discovers how the vicissitudes within the Arab League have been used as a background to a comic dramatisation of inter-Arab divisions
9 Gameat Al-Dewal is proving one of this year's most popular Ramadan serials. In Arabic, Gameat Al-Dewal Al-Arabiya means the Arab League, and it is also the name of one of the most crowded commercial streets in Cairo.
The serial stars the popular actors Khaled Saleh and Bothayna Rashwan, as well as a number of young newcomers.
The serial tells the story of a mechanical engineer who establishes a marine corporation and later embarks on a plan to establish a tourist resort on a vast piece of land at Ayn Sokhna, one of Egypt's new tourist spots on the Red Sea.
The land, which has been purchased by the engineer and developer Salah Asfour (Saleh), is the primary issue behind a contest that comes to dominate events in the first 15 episodes, and will doubtless continue for the rest of the serial. The conflict erupts when another Arab investor comes to Egypt and insists on purchasing the plot from Asfour. The competition hots up as the investor tries his best to persuade Asfour to sell him the land in question.
Asfour himself is a married businessman who has a son by his beautiful wife Somaya (Rashwan). However, he has a skeleton in his closet, or rather several of them: during his frequent business trips to other Arab countries some 20 years before, Asfour had secretly married not once, but four times. These clandestine marriages resulted in children that he never knew about.
When Asfour has a sudden heart attack, a result of the stressed caused by the competition between him and the Arab investor over the land, news of his illness is published in the Arab press. His children, now a young and individually clever bunch, come one by one to Cairo to visit their father and claim their share of his fortune.
In an attempt to keep their comings and goings a secret, Asfour sends them one after the other to his secret apartment at 9 Gameat Al-Dewal Al-Arabiya Street, which has gradually become synonymous with the Arab League.
Asfour's sons and daughters came from Lebanon, Sudan, Morocco and Iraq. To begin with they all ask for their share of their father's fortune, and insist that he should fulfil his duties towards them after more than 20 years of deprivation by selling the land in Ayn Sokhna.
However, as time passes and Asfour's denial of them and his refusal to abandon his dream of establishing a tourist resort become more hard set, his offspring grow closer together. This takes place in a series of comic events that reveal how Arabs have so many things in common and yet are so divided.
The diversity of accents and attitudes makes an excellent comedy show. And the hilarious and highly improvised comic performance by Salah has helped deliver the underlying message in a comic envelope: Asfour stands here for Egypt, which has long ignored her neighbouring Arab countries, keeping political and diplomatic relations on a superficial level as a pretext for maintaining its role as a leader of the Arab world.
In other words, it is true that we have diplomatic relations, for example, with Morocco, but what do we really know about its people and its culture, or its towns and cities?
And despite their accidental coexistence in the secret apartment, the other 'Arab League', this fertile plot was not made much use of by script writer Feda'aa El-Shandawili.
No Arab causes were discussed or debated, except for the Palestinian issue, which was addressed via the Palestinian lover of Asfour's daughter Reem (played by the young Lebanese actress Mariam Hassan).
The four young Arabs are secretly locked up in their father's luxury apartment, but one after another they manage to flee and mingle in Egyptian society, and thus they gradually diffuse the big secret.
Gameat Al-Dewal Al-Arabiya is one of the main shopping streets in the largely upper-middle class Mohandessin district of Cairo. The street is also a hub for Arab tourists, especially during summer, and is famous for its shops and restaurants.
The sudden appearance of Asfour's Arab children puts Asfour in a critical situation, but on another level it pleases him deeply. Their undesired appearance is like a time-bomb that threatens the stability of his marriage and business. What if his wife were to find out that he had married four other women in secret?
His situation has a relevant and accurate bearing on the case of Egypt and her Arab neighbours. Indeed, one of the great points about the comedy is the way it deals with issues often considered tabooß÷¥, including such inter-Arab disputes.
However, the serial reminds me of Belarabi Al-Fasseh (In Plain Arabic), the great play written by pioneer author Lennin El-Raml- and directed by the actor and director Mohamed Sobhi. The brilliant drama, which ran in the mid-1990s, starred a group of enthusiastic young actors and actresses, some of whom have since made their way into our cinemas and big production television dramas.
The play discussed, very daringly but in a highly humorous way, the psychological and political ways of inter-Arab disputes and pointed with a hefty dose of satire to the failed dream of unity among Arabs.
One of the serial's more interesting scenes, perfectly created by director Mohamed Mustafa, was the one when Asfour celebrated his birthday very joyfully with his children in the secret apartment, a hint that he finally accepted their appearance in his life despite its threat to his own social and financial security.
Both the play and the current serial has revived in me, and surely in many viewers, a lasting desire to see this dream of an Arab Union materialise, even a desire to travel the Arab World and gain a perspective of their different cultures and an understanding of their different accents. This is a dream that will take a long time to achieve. However, at least we have now the luxury of entertaining ourselves with an alluring spot of daydreaming.
As a comic serial, 9 Gameat Al-Dewal manages perfectly to bring the inter-Arab issue to the surface, and I am personally wondering how the next episodes will deal with this everlastingly depressing issue. Will Asfour's offspring stand together and help their father to establish his dream project, or will they be selfish enough to insist on fleeing with their share of the money and leaving him in a desperate situation?
Hey, Arab brothers and sisters, is there a way out?