How ‘The Jewish Quarter’ became the talk of Cairo

1762344198Ramadan TV shows have become a festive staple, but this year’s hottest features a daring Jewish-Muslim romance.

The Egyptian press has been afire in recent weeks over the broadcast of a new television soap opera, “The Jewish Quarter” (“Harat al-Yahud”), which takes place from 1948 through the mid-1950s.

On the one hand, some critics have praised the series for its portrayal of Egyptian-Jewish characters, for the first time, in a humane and sympathetic manner. For years, they were depicted in a stereotypical, anti-Semitic way. On the other hand, some claimed the Jews were being portrayed in a “too positive” light, and that the Muslim characters were shown in a negative light compared to them. Somewhere in between, many remark that, to the soap opera’s credit, it depicts Egypt’s pluralist and multicultural past. However, at the same time they highlight the questionable way historic events are presented and complain of many mistakes and inaccuracies regarding Jewish traditions, use of language, sets and dress.

“The Jewish Quarter” is airing as part of the Ramadan series that are produced annually and watched by millions of Arab speakers around the world. Most of them have 30 episodes – one for every day of the holy month of Ramadan. They have become a virtual ritual since the late 1980s – much to the chagrin of many a Muslim scholar – in addition to the daily sunrise-to-sunset fast, prayers in the mosque and charity giving.

Numerous Muslims eat their breaking-fast iftar meal in front of the television. In addition to asking who is fasting and who isn’t, the most common question of recent decades has been, “Which series are you watching?”



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