For some time now, the United States, despite its declining reputation, has been the trendsetter for the world. Travel the world and you will find people wearing American styles, driving American-made cars, and, most markedly, using American-designed technology—Apple I-phones and computers.
People from other countries have enthusiastically embraced social media—information from demonstrators during the Arab Spring was conveyed through Facebook and Twitter.
So, it’s not surprising that other countries are also following America’s lead with regard to entertainment, including the current trend to produce series rather than motion pictures.
Telling stories in episodes isn’t new—it has its precursors in novels, like those written by Charles Dickens in the 19th Century and the weekly, even daily, television shows throughout the second part of the 20th Century.
Thanks to Netflix, some of the series that have originated in other countries have been made available. North Korea has produced the engrossing Secret Affair and Germany, the excellent Babylon Berlin. Several Middle Eastern countries—Kuwait, Turkey, even Saudi Arabia—have produced worthy series, but none with more skill and richness than Egypt.
Even though these countries are copying an American art form, they imbue it with aspects of their own culture, so watching them can not only be highly entertaining but instructive.
Islam is more an integral part of life in Middle Eastern countries than Christianity is in Western countries. People regularly greet one another with “May peace be with you,” if asked how one is, reply, “Thanks be to God,” in Arabic, of course.
Cast members in series set in modern times all use cellphones and laptops. They are de rigeur. Despite the trend for modern people in the Middle to wear traditional garb, the characters tend to wear Western style clothes.
For this article I have chosen to comment on my three favorite Egyptian series—Eugenie Nights, The Secret of the Nile, and Hidden Worlds.
Eugenie Nights is my favorite. It is set in 1940 Port Said. Our heroine, Kariman (played by the enchanting Amina Khalil) has accidently killed her abusive husband (who has sent their baby daughter to Paris). She has fled to Port Said, where she intends to make enough money to retrieve her child.
There she becomes employed as a nanny in the home of Farid (a doctor played by Dhaffer L’Abidine) who is unhappily married to Aida (Carmen Bsaibes), his dead brother’s wife. Kariman and Farid, of course, fall in love…
All the ones I have enjoyed have had large and complex sets of characters with intersecting story lines, giving richness to the story. One of the characters who is most enjoyable in Eugenie Nights is Aziz (played by Mourad Makram), a sweetly overweight man in love with Sofie (Ingy El-Mokkadem) a pretty lady who runs a bakery/café. But their romance is thwarted by Aziz’s manipulative mother, with whom he lives.
The Eugenie is Port Said’s classiest theater—the series is an homage to Egypt’s lost beauty, a time when women wore gorgeous, western-style dresses.
I was so in love with series that I hated to see it come to an end.
The Secret of the Nile is a close second. It’s filmed at the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan along the Nile River. If there is an Egyptian heartthrob, he is certainly Amr Youssef, who in this series plays Ali, who has come to the hotel in search of his sister Doha.
Nazly, (played again by the enchanting Amina Khalil) is the daughter of Madame Kesmat, the hotel owner, and she is expected to marry the hotel manager, the ruthless Mourad, but, of course, falls in love with Ali, who has become employed as a waiter by the hotel. Mohamed Mamdouh plays Amin, Mrs. Faber’s son, who loves Ward, the maid impregnated by Mourad. He is the sweet-tempered character, like Aziz in Eugenie Nights.
You get the picture. One does not tire of this series—the opulence of the setting, the vibrancy of the story and its surprising denouement—I found it to be richly satisfying and also hated to have it come to an end.
At the heart of Hidden Worlds is the veteran Egyptian actor Adel Iman, who plays Helal Kamel an elderly, investigative journalist, who provides the moral compass for this intriguing story. It starts with the death of a famous Egyptian actress, Maryam, which is touted as an apparent suicide, but which, Helal suspects is murder. He finds her journal in a bookstore, which, of course, he purchases, hoping to glean clues from it.
Helal lives with grandson, Essam, whose mother Ghada is a manipulative lawyer married to a handsome but unscrupulous man.
The plot thickens when Helal writes a shocking expose about Egypt’s clandestine organ trade. At an abusive orphanage, he finds Maryam’s daughter Nourhane lived there but now, a grown woman, is working in club and addicted to drugs. Halel’s physician son Tareq helps detox her. Officer Raouf provides comic relief to the story.
Anyone interested in pitching their own series might take some clues from the above—that because of the length of the story, a large cast of distinct characters is needed (please note the success of the Canadian series, Schitt’s Creek and the American Ozark), and a unique setting. In the Turkish series Winter Sun Istanbul provides a gorgeous setting.
I highly recommend all three of these Egyptian series to those of you that have exhausted or become bored by American sit-com series. Thank you to Netflix for making our quarantine bearable.
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