A couple of weeks ago, prior to the start of this Ramadan, I began to research which series I would follow during this month. I set a limit of one or two series in order not to be completely distracted from the purposes of such a holy month. After having followed the blog, the final decision was to follow the series ‘Ayza Atgawez. What interested me the most was the vast changes that our culture is currently facing. Egypt has now witnessed its first case of an online blog turned into a book, then into a television series. Please note that I have read most of the blog and I am writing this blog post based on what I have read from the blog and less than a week of daily episodes of the series; I have not read the book.
The blog began with its first post published on August 19, 2006, almost exactly 4 years ago. Written in colloquial Egyptian Arabic by Ghada Abdel Aal in a very sincere yet confrontational tone, the blog has become the first of its kind. With an average of two posts per month, Ghada documents light-heartedly her experiences of meeting her Prince Charming. In a Western society, this blog would have expressed the humor in a young woman’s dating experiences. In more conservative and traditional societies however, meeting Charming occurs through courting, which is much like dating yet done in public and requires family approval. Egyptian society today remains to be labeled conservative (and rightly so), despite the liberal westernization of Egypt’s high society. For the well-off minority of Egypt, families are very likely to accept dating for their sons and even their daughters. For the vast majority of Egyptians, traditions prevail.
The blog ‘Ayza Atgawez is much like a young woman’s journal, where all that humors her (in what frustrates her) is told. Some of the posts were general questioning of social values; others numerically listed the “3irsan”, or potential husbands, and Ghada and/ or her family’s first encounters with them. Again, the vast majority of Egyptian women can relate to Ghada in one way or another. First is the importance of marriage in Egyptian society, particularly for women. Second, is the changing age of marriage. As the blog reiterates many times, a woman that reaches 30 years of age and is not married is generally looked down upon. Egyptian women are in a constant race that must end by the age of 30; the starting age varies from 15 to 20 to 25 depending on the family values and social backgrounds, but most importantly the race must end at 30.
While it may be argued that this blog is stereotyping, it is without a doubt showcasing a problem that the majority of young Egyptian women are facing. Ghada, the author, speaks for herself and tells her own stories, therefore avoiding the stereotyping of the problem. While catering for their careers may appear to be a priority at times, it remains a fact that marriage is either a hidden or openly exposed target for most Egyptians, and women in particular.
Director: Rami Imam
Written by: Ghada Abdel Aal
Music: Hisham Gabr
Actors: Hend Sabry; Sawsan Badr; Ahmed Fouad Selim; Ragaa Hussein; Tarek Ebiary; and a variety of guest stars
The series fall under the comedy genre, observational comedy in particular. Under this type of comedy, trivial every day things normally accepted by society are exaggerated, in this case the general desire for young women to get married. It is characterized by humorous sarcasm. The fact that this is the genre that has determined the fate of the series responds to those who immediately criticized the first episode (myself included) for the exaggerated facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice of the actors, Hend Sabry in particular. This type of comedy justifies this type of acting. It is important to acknowledge however that this genre is not entirely common in Egyptian cinema and television.
One may question if comedy, let alone observational comedy, was the best choice for such a grave social topic. Of course, the question is valid. One may also ask: How else could this topic have been handled? The only other genre I could propose would be tragedy. However, this would have turned the series into another brutally and depressingly confrontational Egyptian soap opera; thereby not offering anything new to Egyptian television or to Egyptian society-at-large.
Another reason why comedy wins over tragedy for this particular topic is the evident desire for the film crew to stay in line with the blog/ book. The series is not merely influenced by the blog, in fact, it is directly and completely based on it. This essentially necessitates transferring the author’s attitude in the blog to the general attitude of the series. Had another genre been chosen, the humorous conversational nature of the blog would have not been implemented. As such, the script is characterized by a mixture of spoken thoughts (like the written thoughts in the blog) and conversation, thus inevitably adding to the exaggerated acting.
Also concerning such style of acting is how the actors’ exaggerated actions and reactions express taboos. It was previously a taboo for a woman to publicly admit her desire to get married. In fact, this is highlighted by the very opening lines of the blog and the very opening lines of the first episode, “… a girl who talks about this is either looked upon as indecent and hasn’t been properly raised… or as being excessively in a rush for marriage… or as being “wasted” and cannot find anyone to marry her…” (PS. This is a literal translation. “Wasted” could be replaced with “put on the shelf” or “aging” and thus “abandoned”)
اللي بتتكلم فيه بصراحة يا إما بيتبصلها على إنها قليلة الأدب و ماتربتش ..يا إما على انها مسروعة ع الجواز ..يا إما على انها بارت و مش لاقيه حد يتجوزها..
This emphasizes the taboo nature of the topic, which foreshadows the public’s reaction towards the blog, as seen in three-dimensionally through the series. The series has proven to be courageous in tackling such a sensitive topic.
Nevertheless, I have personally had much higher expectations for the series, while I still believe it deserves to be applauded for breaking communication barriers and illustrating what many Egyptians, women and men alike, must admit. If Egyptian men and women consider late marriage or lack of marriage altogether a problem, then there must be an extended form of openness in discussing it in order to find and consequently implement solutions.
It is difficult to precisely pinpoint what dimension was missing from the series, yet, I expected more depth to the main characters’ encounters with the potential husbands. It seems that the series focuses more on character-building and showcasing the dynamics of the characters, Hend Sabry’s role in particular. Perhaps some form of reflection would have created depth, although somewhat straying from the blog’s wording.
As for my expectations after the completion of the series, it would be interesting and perhaps even necessary to showcase, either through a blog, book, and/ or series, the male perspective to the problem. One must acknowledge that, like women, Egyptian men are also experiencing the struggles accompanying the desire to get married, whether it is a personal desire or a societal expectation. This would support the multi-directional communication on the subject, which could potentially solve this “problem”.
Finally, I intend to continue watching the series. Also, the validity of this critique is entirely pending the airing of the remaining 24 episodes of the series.
(written on August 17, 2010)