Academic journal article Arab Studies Journal

The Politics of Love and Desire in Post Uprising Syrian Television Drama

Academic journal article Arab Studies Journal

The Politics of Love and Desire in Post Uprising Syrian Television Drama

Article excerpt

Sham refuses to give in to her mother's notion that prior to marriage a woman must make the man suffer for access to her body. If she does not refrain from sex, her mother believes, the man will aggressively toss her aside. "Are we at war?" the baffled young woman asks.1 As their love develops, Mansur struggles with the idea that he and Sham can experience premarital sex. In the end, his conservative mindset wins. He dumps Sham, with whom he had shared harmonious love and seduction rituals, to marry Dima, who chose not to have sex prior to marriage. But then he is unable to seduce Dima and consummate their marriage on their wedding night. The story ends with a frustrated Mansur, running through the streets in the direction of a brokenhearted Sham while his pregnant and confused wife looks on. The failure of the central love story in the Syrian television series, Nisa' min Hadha al-Zaman (Women of This Time), shows that lovers must also navigate a battlefield in a country that has been destroyed from within and without.

Nisa' min Hadha al-Zaman, produced by the Syrian company, Qabnad, aired in the spring of 2014 on MBC 1, a pan-Arab satellite channel, in advance of the Ramadan season. Filmed in Damascus, the thirty-threeepisode miniseries grapples with controversial family issues in Syria. The show's writer Buthayna 'Awad and director Ahmad Ibrahim Ahmad deal with taboo topics such as premarital sex, masturbation, menstruation, and the imported hymen wrap that women use to fake virginity on the wedding night. Prior to the 2011 uprisings and the "fallen wall of fear," several miniseries had tackled the theme of heterosexual love and seduction. Nisa' min Hadha al-Zaman, however, was more radical in exploring the varied layers of a man's inner struggle with traditional social values. It also allowed viewers to observe intimate moments between lovers. The miniseries critiques men's privileged access to premarital sex. Taking place in Syria three years into an uprising plunged into civil war, 'Awad portrays relationships as private gendered battles of power between men and women. While some of the stories appear as exaggerated, the strongest is Sham and Mansur's. Close-ups of Mansur's alternately sinister and gentle facial expressions as well as his wavering philosophical positions depict his inner struggle, his love for Sham, and his obsession with her sexual past. Sham refuses to allow social norms or her mother's bitter past guide her actions. Her ultimate self-destruction is a testament to the dangers of falling in love. It also bears witness to the centrality of the body and the self as metaphors of political critique.

Syrian screenwriter Najeeb Nseir, a journalist and scholar, has asserted that high-caliber writing and didacticism distinguish the majority of Syrian television dramas (musalsalat), whose writers are novelists, poets, and journalists.2 As the Ba'th regime consolidated its authoritarian system of rule in the 1960s, many activists turned to writing and journalism. Television enticed writers as a forum that allowed them to reach broad audiences through symbolic, politically engaged storylines.3 Blossoming amidst persisting authoritarianism, musalsalat were an invaluable artistic venue for revealing the deceit of regime narratives.4 Some screenwriters showed that it is only when the qabaday (tough man)5 sheds the role of protector of a woman's sexuality that a free Syria could emerge.

Narratives were destined to change when, on 6 March 2011, security forces arrested and tortured twelve schoolchildren for writing graffiti demanding Bashar al-Asad's downfall. A national uprising unfolded. The regime offered limited economic concessions and a "military solution" that radicalized and divided the opposition. The regime also released imprisoned Islamist fighters. During the summer of 2011, army defectors and other locally armed groups began to defend the protesters. By the summer of 2012, the number, nature, and objectives of armed groups opposing the regime had diversified to include the Free Syria Army, Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, and others. …

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