Disclaimer: This is in no way a direct attack on any entity as much as it is a critique of certain discourses and narratives that have always been and continue to be unacceptable.
Content Warning: mentions of violence, rape, and suicidal thoughts.
There’s only so much blatant discrimination (homo/transphobia, misogyny, classism, fatphobia, etc.) and hyper-nationalism we can take. Most people forget that while we were young, there are events no one will ever be able to make us unsee and it incites so much rage in us to be continuously ignored, marginalized, violated, and misrepresented in Egyptian media. It’s been *insert number of years you think cause we can’t* of witnessing the same crap over and over and over on TV generally but during Ramadan especially.
Honestly, we sort of miss the old-school kind of romance represented in Layali Eugenie, some drama like Halawet El Donia, a bit of Moga Harra and Afrah El Qobba’s mystery, maybe the relatively accurate representation from Taht El Saytara, and definitely the sociopolitical impact that comes with shows like Zat and Segn El Nesa – if that isn’t too much to ask yaani.
We love our country, we’d love to see a nationalist and patriotic show every once in a while, but to have five in a single month…and every other mosalsal having some sort of nationalist edge? Here’s the thing, what is the ‘Egypt’ everyone wants us to be proud of? Which version of it? There’s the Egypt that is Om El Donia, the motherland, being protected from bastard sons by its loyal ones, its soldiers fighting terrorism and Islamist propaganda to protect it and its honor. But that’s not the only Egypt. Making this out to be the ‘only’ Egypt is a form of erasure.
You see, Egypt is also women being murdered every day with no justice in sight. It is the near destruction of a previously existing middle class. It is no hope for a workers’ liberation movement because the working class is being slowly crushed under a crumbling economy and debt. It is a poverty line that – according to government statistics – has 40% of the population (that’s 40 MILLION Egyptians) under its belt. Oh, and that poverty line? Means that a worker makes 7,000 LE…a year. It’s the continued practice of FGM and the blatanat racism against Nubi people and Sudanese immigrants. It’s coptic erasure and misrepresentation.
It’s also a blooming private sector. It’s tech startups in tiny villages, and young women inventors going unnoticed. It is the Nile and its riches. Its folktales and folksongs and years of beautiful traditions passed down from mother to daughter and father to son. It’s love stories that still live in our poetry. It’s the Leftist resistance movement or the lives of Ahmed Fouad Negm and Sheikh Imam. Our Egypt has centuries of stories buried in our colloquial language and our everyday practices, not just our museums. It’s successful attempts at overthrowing every colonizer and imperial power that came our way. Our Egypt is Om El Donia, but her children aren’t only sons and her sons are definitely not only soldiers. Our Egypt is neither the Egypt of 8000 years ago or the Egypt of the last 10 years, it is everything in between, too.
As a hijabi writing this, I’m so tired of being misrepresented or outright excluded from Egyptian media. Why do we associate the choice to wear Hijab with lack of awareness, intellect and backwardness? The hijabi in most series is either the wife of a terrorist, a secret ‘slut’ who is portrayed as a woman that sleeps around but performs religiosity, or a symbol of a weak, naive, and powerless woman. It’s disgusting. Wake up, please. You don’t get to police our attire or to encourage a certain narrative around hijab through your media, this is not your place. Leave us be, let us choose what to wear and how to look like. Get actual Hijabis to do Hijabi roles. Hijabis can hold high positions and can be authoritative too, they’re not always forced into modesty because of their oh-so-weak personality.
Remember Li A3la Se3r? Nelly Karim was a Niqabi, but then she was liberated by choosing to take it off entirely. That’s alright, some women really feel this way and it is their right. But here’s the thing: that’s some women and not all women. I want to fully relate to a teenager Hijabi who has a common sense of style, like most Hijabis do.
Represent us, truly. We’re girls and women from all social classes whose intellect and culture vary as much as the next woman in this country irrespective of what she has on (or doesn’t). We don’t wear ragged clothes and we aren’t all striving and struggling to take off our Hijab. Hijabi scholars, business women, models, entrepreneurs, artists, athletes, actresses, scientists, exist. Hijabi elderly and teenagers exist. Hijabis exist in the upper class, in what is left of the middle class, in the working class, and in the lower class. Hijabis can struggle with their faith or they could not. They could be fat or skinny or anything in between, they could wear turbans or khimar, they could be brown or black, they could be anything. This very energy? This idea is not just about hijabis though.
We want to see ourselves on our screens. We want true representation of our communities in this society, with no stereotypes and no shame. Get see’di (upper Egyptian) people to do see’di roles, get hijabis to do hijabi roles, get vitiligo-diagnosed people to do the role of a person with vitiligo. Get a fat person to do a fat role in a romantic film without being the butt of every joke. Ask a young woman who actually lives alone in this country what her experience is actually like. Want to represent Copts? Find coptic actors.
Better yet, mental illness isn’t a bunch of tantrums and meds, maybe y’all need to talk to psychotherapists and psychologists before continuing to reproduce – frankly – shit ideas and characters dealing with mental illness, furthering the stigma. How about that? Assigning roles to those who relate to them? It’s not about performances as much as it is about feeling like we’re being seen and heard. Try to be more precise when marketing for your shows. Meaning, don’t you dare generalise the problems of elite (not even upper class) teenagers as problems of all teenagers (@ Welad Nas). You’re not seeing over 95% of the population. Visibility, y’all, that’s what we need and want and will continue to demand.
When it comes to representation in series, you’re not representing an idea, you’re representing real people. For example, the show Bent El Sultan depicts a person with a mental illness. It isn’t clear what that mental illness is but you can see the main character having a breakdown and flipping over a table and envisioning herself jumping in front of a train. While, yes, that is the case with some people, a majority of us do not experience that; before I got diagnosed I looked at how the people who had my disorder acted and reacted and I thought, ‘oh I don’t have that because I don’t act like that.’ Oftentimes people are only exposed to these topics through series; if people are being misrepresented, then there’s a problem. A lot of the time shows use stereotypes to get their point across, but the thing is, we aren’t stereotypes and we aren’t your surface level understanding of us.
If you want to represent a group of people, I beg you to consult them, even if it means that you won’t get so many people engaged with your show. I reckon that’s better than spreading misinformation and both violating and excluding several communities. There are people with several mental illnesses walking among us everyday and they don’t have a sign on top of their heads that says: caution has Generalized Anxiety Disorder beware they get fatigued very easily. We have highs and lows and you have to understand that one day a person with OCD might be okay and the next they might have trouble doing mundane things; yes we do have our struggles but oftentimes they are no where near the same ones represented in the media.
And when we say representation, we do not mean El Tawoos. We’ll try to keep our commentary censored because Ramadan and all, but what the actual hell is going on? Are we actually capitalising off a very sensitive and very traumatic case, now? This show is based on the Fairmont case – regardless of what anyone says – a case for which witnesses were detained for over a hundred days and a case for which lives were ruined. Now, before a verdict is even issued, the producers and the whole team, who are all men by the way, decided to adapt it into a Ramadan series. Why are we showcasing ‘both’ points of views as though we know who the victim is and the details of her experience? It is neither the time nor is it your place to implant yourself into a narrative you are yet to be informed about. You cannot speak on behalf of people you don’t know, whether or not your intentions were to raise awareness or to stay relevant or whatever the hell your intentions were you portrayed an unthinkable version of violence while being inadequately informed about the situation in a manner that is very triggering and revolting.
This is traumatizing, triggering and inhumane. Do better; are we really profiting off a gang rape case? The rape scene got over a million views 7 hours after posting it. Someone’s life absolutely went to ruins and is still going to ruins, yet shows are being produced and dramatised. In what world is this acceptable? If they were looking to ‘raise awareness’, they would’ve waited. Again, this is a show produced at the wrong time and by the wrong people in a wrong way. Can’t you read the room?! When knowledge of the case first came out it was a trending search on some Pornhub. This is only the tip of the iceberg in how our mosalsalat continue to reproduce – unapologetically – rape culture.
Every mosalsal has a woman being abused as a form of love. Damn y’all have learned nothing. Here we are, still seeing abuse, harassment, assault, and rape as normalized things between a man and a woman with anything between them. Hell, we’re extremely disappointed (but not surprised) that Yasmin Raeis casually asked a man in a scene to harass her. Like, we have nothing to say because there is so damn much to say. There’s the normalization of a man ‘chasing’ a woman, unsolicited and nonconsensually, because it proves that he’s ‘interested’ in her, when its blatant stalking and predatory behavior.
Oh, and the recurring trope of the cheating husband who is constantly worried about his ‘honor’ being blemished by his wife doing things she shouldn’t or even cheating on him. Because, you know, we’ve normalized men cheating and women forgiving them but also a woman’s murder at the hands of her husband if he just ‘thinks’ she cheated or hell, looked at another man – as if it’s some normal justified thing. We call it a ‘crime of passion’ when really, it’s murder.
We want to turn on the TV to see our culture reflected. Allow us to specify: we want more feminist content, we want honest political content, we want to see women cinematographers, authors. We want women-led series, we want movies that talk about intersectional feminism, we want movies and shows that address actual solid issues in society with no bias. The view today’s movie industry is giving us extremely privileged and removed, who exactly does this serve?
We want visibility.
We want honesty.