Trigger warning: The following piece discuss sexual harassment, assault, and r*p*. We understand that these topics can be very difficult for many individuals. Please take care of yourselves and your well-being. Resources for survivors and loved ones: rainn.org | pandys.org | nsvrc.org
Eid Mubarak to all my Muslim brothers and sisters! This Ramadan, the entertainment industry in Egypt started to talk about sexual harassment in Egyptian culture and finally shed a light on the corruptness and controversy around sexual assault cases in Egypt.
Today, I want to talk about the controversy underlying this new trend: is the Egyptian entertainment industry talking about the cultural problem of sexual harassment to raise awareness or to make money?
During the holy month of Ramadan, the Egyptian entertainment industry really gets the opportunity to prove themselves, to compete and win over Egyptians’ hearts. Every year during Ramadan, over 20 different TV series are aired daily on regional TV channels like MBC, Al-Nahar, DMC, and CBC with an aim to raise awareness on ongoing or controversial issues, educate the younger generation, to just entertain, and - of course - to make money. This year, producers and directors decided to dive into the dark hole of sexual harassment and all consequent issues. The following programs are some examples of how the entertainment industry has brought attention to gender violence:
Series based on real-life incidents - Directed by Raouf Abdel Aziz, El Tawoos is a series heavily based on the Fairmont Rape Case of 2014 (which I discussed in my first post) which regards an Alexandrian girl who’s sexually assaulted after going to a party at a hotel in the North Coast. This story highlights how corrupt the system is when trying to deal with sexual assault, and all the pain the survivor goes through post-attack. Although they’ve changed the occupation and socio-economic class of the survivor in the TV series, the fact remains that making a series at the time whilst the case remains open was a shocking surprise to many. It has been regarded as inappropriate by many.
Marital rape scene - In the series La’bet Newton starring Mona Zaki, Muhammad Mamdooh, and Muhammad Farrag, the series explicitly centers the issue of sexual assault with a marital rape scene that shocked many. In this scene, Mo’nes (played by Muhammad Farrag) tries to force Hana (Mona Zaki) to have sex. After, we witness as she leaves the room after the attemped rape to seek help from her ex husband, Hazem (Muhammad Mamdooh). Guttingly, she discovers that he also played a role in the trauma she just experienced.
Toxic masculinity - Another big topic of discussion which was brought up in La’bet Newton, was Hazem’s fragile masculinity and how it affected everyone around him. He made Hana feel incompetent, slut-shamed her and ‘gifted’ her basic human rights, like driving. It also showed how he loved to exert control over those around him - making others feel worse so he can feel better about himself. After Hana stood up to him, we see him harass his work partner’s girlfriend to boost his ego after the fact.
Power prevents justice - In multiple series, including Elle Maloush Kbeer and Molouk Al Gad'ana, the viewers’ attention is brought to the corruption within the justice system in Egypt. Multiple young male characters are shown harassing women and getting out of trouble with their daddy’s money and fleeing the country.
These “contentious” topics aired on national TV created great controversy amongst Egyptian viewers.
While a majority of the audience praised the television networks for shining a light on these long-standing and continuing issues, another part of the audience felt that these sensitive topics were too much for networks to publicise and speak about. The latter were vocally against publicizing modern gender-based violence and issues. Their argument is that violence against women and violation of their rights is not meant to be used as TV entertainment, especially during the holy month of Ramadan. However, the former felt as though it was crucial for the development of the country’s justice system - that publicizing these social issues spreads awareness and could provide justice to any survivors who have experienced similar abuse.
A perfect example of this is the case against the El Tawoos series. This specific series stirred up a lot of debate, as many felt that this show was merely a way for the network to profit off of the Fairmont rape case and receive praise for bringing awareness to such a “controversial” topic. Another criticism was that it was too similar to its inspiration. Additionally, many believed that it was insensitive of the network and producers to forgo the survivor’s permission to share her story and display it so publicly. Adversely, other viewers were satisfied that the issue of rape, and particularly gang rape, was being emphasized as a cultural issue. They believed that the issue needed to be discussed publicly in order to lead to justice that other survivors deserved.
Another “delicate” topic included in the controversy stirred up by this year’s shows was fragile masculinity. One specific series that focused on their male lead’s toxic masculinity was La’bet Newton. Hazem, Hana’s ex-husband, was portrayed as a narcissistic, possessive, and controlling husband. On multiple occasions throughout the series, he emotionally abused his ex-wife, and all the women around him. He also attempted to rape his roommate in the midst of an anxiety attack as a way to ease his pain. (This scene was significantly hard to watch.) Hazem’s character was considered necessary by many viewers, as they felt that there should be more awareness surrounding the topics of abuse, rape culture, and toxic masculinity. Unfortunately, a sizable portion of other viewers felt that the female characters “deserved” the emotional abuse, as their actions in previous scenes were “unacceptable” and that they needed to be “disciplined.” Not only was Hazem a character who was an example of the connection between rape culture and toxic masculinity in La’bet Newton, but so was Mo’nes, as he attempted to rape his wife because his friends and family pressured him and claimed that she was too “disgusted” by him.
One side of the argument is that television networks are publicizing these issues to raise awareness on the topic and give strength and justice to any victims of sexual harassment.
Speaking publicly about past traumas, especially sexual harassment, and breaking the silence helps break the pattern of the false sense of shame which survivors may feel, which is also what usually stops them from coming out and speaking about their case. Like I mentioned in my first post, when one case is discussed, other cases start to surface. It would be a really great initiative, on the network’s behalf, if this was their true intention.
The opposite side of the argument is that they are feeding off the survivors’ stories to increase their viewership.
These viewers strongly feel that producers had no right to expose and publicize these kinds of controversial and private stories, which may bring up some unresolved inner conflicts with survivors and expose these survivors for no reason. A handful of the viewers believed that if the industry’s intentions were true and genuine, they would have sympathized and shown their support in another way, instead of publicizing these survivors’ stories in a very detailed manner which related to very specific cases.
Although this discussion could be perceived in many different ways and we may never know the industry’s or producers’ intentions, it matters a lot. For their message to be effective and get through to the viewers, I think that their intentions should also be true and genuine. Either way, it is a great development that these issues are being talked about publicly. Yes, they may not be spoken about correctly - however, this is a step-by-step process, and we’ve got a long way to go.
P.S. If you ever need someone to talk to, want advice, or just want to say hello- please feel free to reach out! You can email me at SubmissionsToLeila@gmail.com. I’m always here to listen and am the only one who will be reading your messages. Everything is 100% confidential, unless you decide otherwise.