Allah My Children

Soap opera controversy.


Every Ramadan, Arabic-language TV is dominated by loudly hyped, month-long soap operas. Last Ramadan, however, one of the more heavily advertised series, the Qatari-produced Road to Kabul, disappeared from the schedules of every TV service that had purchased the right to show it. The apparent reason: A Web site that often features messages from Islamist extremists carried a threat against everyone involved with the show.

"We swear to the great God that if we see in the series anything other than the honorable reality of the Taliban…we will assault all those who participated in this sullied malice," said the posting. "We direct our strong warning to all who participated in producing this series, whether an actor, producer or cameraman."

The series deals with an Afghan woman exile living in England who falls in love with an Arab. She eventually returns to Afghanistan, only to confront the harsh rule of the Taliban. There had been some anticipation that the series might spark a broad conversation about the role of women and the interpretation of Koranic law.

The show was scheduled to be shown by Jordanian TV, which canceled it at the request of the Qatari producers. Two other TV services, Moroccan TV and the Gulf-based MBC, showed the first eight episodes but were forced to stop the series when the Qataris refused to supply them with the rest of the episodes.

The Qataris denied that the threats were a factor in their decision, citing technical problems. But technical problems are an unlikely reason to pull any of these Ramadan series, which are often riddled with production deficiencies. For example, the opening episode of an Egyptian series about an Alexandrian wheeler-dealer went on the air with an incomplete sound mix, so that the dialog in important expository scenes was completely inaudible under a blaring track of incidental music.

Indeed, despite the attention the Ramadan soaps enjoy, they are often still being written, shot, and edited during Ramadan itself. That can result in a precipitous decline in the quality of the later episodes. In the case of one of last year's more popular series–dealing with Hezbollah's war against Israel–the producers miscalculated the pace of their narrative. The result was that the series ended with the story still unresolved, to the deep consternation of the audience that had been following it faithfully each night for a month.?