In Iraq, as is the situation with other Arab countries, the holy month of Ramadan is a season for screening new dramas on different Arab satellite channels. Film historian Mohamed Abdeljaleel said Ramadan dramas simulate the old “storyteller” profession whose practitioners in the past used to sit with the people in each alley of the town or village to tell different stories during the period between Iftar (breakfast at sunset) and Suhour (a second meal before sunrise).
In Iraq, Ramadan this year is distinguished by its rich, diversified and high quality dramas that have bewitched Iraqi audiences thanks to the image quality and the notable progress made in art direction.
Perhaps, this has been strengthened by the strong emergence of MBC Iraq TV in Iraqi houses, competing with “Sharqya” TV, which was somehow monopolising Ramadan dramas, and other TV channels like Dejla, Diyar and Hona Baghdad.
Highly controversial Iraqi dramas have divided opinion, as issues like adultery, drugs and night life have been addressed openly, unlike the situation in the past. For example, “The Hotel” series has provoked considerable debate on social media websites. “The Hotel” is set in a hotel in which different characters go through the experiences of adultery, drugs, homosexuality, begging, organ trade and even police corruption.
Thana Khalaf (41), a teacher, said, “the series shows and promotes whatever is deleterious and harmful to society, such as night clubs, wine, adultery, child trafficking etc. You may say these all exist in society... Why should we expose it and let teenagers and juveniles learn from this?” Hassan Shokri (56) sees the series as, “a conspiracy to destroy the fabric of Iraqi society by letting young people learn from this and distort the image of the country.”
Hamed Al-Maleki, script writer of the series in question, tweeted in defence of his work, saying, “In The Hotel series I addressed nearly 20% of the decadence and rubbish in our deeply-rooted Iraqi society. I promise you to address the remaining 80% of our shy and scared culture (in future works).” “We live our life once and it is an opportunity to pave the way for our offspring to live in a better society, a society without thieves”, Al-Maleki added in his tweet.
Other drama series were not safe from criticism. For example, the “Sweet and Sour” series is a set of short comic sketches repeated with different ideas every night. Well-known blogger, Hussein Ali, commenting through his Facebook page “Nearly Hussein” wrote, “Full scenes have been duplicated from the Egyptian “Plateau” Show by Ahmed Ameen. In a separate tweet, Ali said the “Tea and Lies” show is a duplicate of a similar Kuwaiti episode.
Alaa Hussein, renowned Iraqi actress and the highest paid in Iraq, reacted strongly by saying, “Greetings to those who had a real positive reaction, those who did not follow the herd mentality and who had respect for the attempts made to please them.” Alaa’s tweet caused a strong reaction by the Iraqi audience on social media websites, who saw her remarks as misunderstanding their criticism that such work was boring and repetitive.
Iraqi female activist, Yosr Al-Qazwini, said, “her (Alaa’s) style is rude and aggressive. A big actor should not make statements like this.”
Ahmed Galeb, young blogger and activist, said “Today, thanks to the internet, the Iraqi people are in touch with international dramas. Today, we see young Iraqi spend sleepless nights watching dramas like Game of Thrones. The Iraqi audience is becoming increasingly aware of what is happening and what it watches.”
Renowned scenarist Ahmed Hatef was cited as saying, “I’m not pessimistic in spite of the catastrophic works screened during Ramadan. I insist on saying that we can skip them. There is an apparent malfunction in Iraqi state TV and media simply because it does not have sufficient finance to fund good works.”
Although those criticising and rejecting Iraqi dramas were the loudest voice, the number of followers of such dramas was significant, as was manifested by the millions of Youtube viewers who saw Iraqi dramas as distinguished, high-end and able to match any Arab competition.