Ramadan hosts slam the MB
Venus Fouad looks at the irrepressible force of politics on television
Egyptian television viewing reaches a peak in Ramadan, when the routine of the fasting regime of the Holy month brings the whole family to long, lazy evenings in front of the TV.
The Muslim Brotherhood's rise to power has put its stamp on this year's Ramadan programmes, either because of the marked rise in Islamist guests or because of the recurrent criticism of the Islamists and their policies.
Instead of the usual parade of celebrities from the art and sports worlds, the demand on politicians as guests on TV shows has increased, with many MB members and Salafi figures featuring frequently in Ramadan talk shows.
A gutsy example of this trend in programmes is Zaman El-Ekhwan (Time of the Brotherhood), presented by Lebanese host Tony Khalifah on Al-Qahira Wal Nas (Cairo and the People). The show focuses on political and social changes in Egypt while challenging their guests on matters of policy and ideology. A most exciting episode was the one with the MB general guide, who admitted that he is dreaming of an Egypt that is fully "veiled" and irrevocably "Islamist".
However, in the episode in which he featured the preacher Safwat Hegazi retracted several of his controversial statements, gravitating more towards the mainstream.
During the same programme it transpired that Michel Mounir is not the real name of the well-known Coptic activist. Fearing legal problems, some of which related to financial irregularities connected with church donations, the activist decided to invent a new identity for himself.
Khalifah often invites three people from different political backgrounds to react to the main guest. Those three, including a mix of Islamists and liberals, do not appear on camera, but they analyse the opinions of the guest and offer their take on the points raised during the discussion.
Another interesting programme is Samar Wal Regal (Samar and Men) hosted by Samar Yosri on Al-Qahira Wal Nas. The tone of the programme is so controversial that lawsuits have been filed to prevent broadcasting. Some newspapers have classified it under the "Adults Only" category owing to the sexual content of some of the questions. Samar has asked her male guests about their way of achieving "sexual satisfaction" and their reaction if they discovered that their wives were cheating on them. She once asked broadcaster Sharif Madkour to react to claims that his mannerisms and clothes were effeminate. In an episode with Amr Youssef, the actor refused to answer the question on his reaction if he discovered that his wife was not a virgin. This was particularly interesting, coming from a man who brags openly about his sexual conquests.
Yosri's programme is exceptional in that it brings to public attention the underlying contradictions of the oriental man, illustrating the manner in which the double standards of men can upset marital life.
It was refreshing when politician Amr Hamzawi said that his relationship with his second wife, the young actress Basma, is going well, adding that he still has a close friendship with his first wife, who is German. This is quite unusual since it is the pathetic custom in Egypt to scorn former spouses.
Nor does the programme does shy from debunking the Islamist ideas that the new regime is trying to enforce on Egypt. The incident involving the Salafi Member of Parliament and the duplicity of his actions may have also paved the way for this openness.
Ibrahim Wal Nas (Ibrahim and the People) is also critical of MB views. The programme offers a satirical analysis of current political events, highlighting the contradictions of the current president and government. In episodes 19 and 20, the show looked at the contradictions in the policies of President Mohamed Morsi and his government. Morsi, who has been calling for El-Ganzouri's resignation, ended up appointing him as an adviser. Morsi also declined to attend the funeral of the victims of the Rafah raid for fear of confronting public wrath, although he had claimed that he did not fear the people. The episode focusing on the sacking of the governor of Sinai was also revealing.
Amr El-Leithi's Al-Khataya Al-Sabaa (The Seven Sins), which is screened on Al-Mehwar, mirrors Khaled Salah's Al-Asila Al-Sabaa (The Seven Questions). The only difference is that Leithi focuses on repentance, goading his guests to admit to their sins in public. This, by the way, is totally opposed to the MB practice of shoving things under the carpet for fear of giving people a hint of their own humanity. The questions draw their inspiration from Dante's seven deadly sins: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony.
Most guests admitted to engaging in one or another of the deadly sins. The most daring was poet Ahmad Fouad Negm, who stated that sex was just as holy as praying. Negm also admitted to using drugs, specifically hashish.
In La Taragu Wala Istislam (No Retreat or Surrender), which was shown on CBC, Magdi El-Gallad interviewed such well known opposition figures as Mohamed Abu Hamed, Khaled Youssef and Samah Nour. The programme's host, and most of his guests, are clearly opposed to the MB's domination of the state apparatus.
In Korse Fil Kolob (Turning Point), shown on CBC, Lamis El-Hadidi resumes the same formula she embarked on last year. She invites celebrities and politicians to ask them about the most memorable decision of last year. The episode with Gamal Abdel-Hakim Amer, son of the 1967 army chief, was of particular interest, especially when he accused Gamal Abdel-Nasser of killing his father.
Judging by the tone of this year's Ramadan, the media is taking a great interest in much of what the Islamists say and do, but it is reserving its sympathies for the more liberal sections of society.