Breaking stereotypes: Egyptian TV serial depicts Muslim-Jewish love story

The show about a Muslim army officer and a Jewish woman has sparked controversy for depicting Jews in a positive light


Web Desk June 27, 2015
PHOTO: BBC

An Egyptian television show which depicts a love story between a Muslim man and a Jewish woman has attracted both acclaim and disdain.

The Jewish Quarter, which is set between 1948 and 1954, airs everyday during Ramazan.

The show has courted controversy, however, because it is a love story between a Muslim army officer and a beautiful Jewish woman.

Moreover, it shines a positive light on Jews, which has sparked debate given that most people in the region blame all Jews for the decades old Arab-Israel conflict.

The show is like any other romantic drama, and features the usual suspects: a hero, heroine and a villain, with a bit of politics and suspense thrown in. .

"People have been talking about it since the show was announced as a concept and before one word was written," said Mohamed el-Adl, the director of the series.

Read: Two faiths, one prayer: Muslims and Jews come together to pray

"They were telling us why would you make a series about Jews, it's forbidden, it's not nice to show them; it's not nice to talk about them," he says.

However, he is determined to change how Jews are viewed by Egyptians.

"The idea that people have right now in Egypt is that the Jews were evil in the old days," he says.

"So, we're taking people back in history to show them what the Jews were doing, [whether] were they nice or not."

Further, Medhat el-Adl, the creator of the show is doing everything to make sure the editing gets done with as soon as possible as he wants the show to conclude by the end of Ramazan.


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He feels this is the perfect timing for this kind of show. "Now I feel this is the time to write about how to accept the other," he says. "I think we have to show people what Egypt was like; how it was a cosmopolitan country that could accept everyone, every religion, every nationality."

In his own way, he is trying to remind people that Egypt once had a flourishing Jewish community of 80,000 or more. Now, however, the old synagogues in Cairo are empty as there are only a dozen or so Jews left.

Even the Israeli Embassy has taken notice of the show. Initially, they praised it but then retracted their statement after the first week of the show, claiming that it showed Israel as a "brutal enemy".

Read: Muslim who saved Jews during Paris supermarket attack honoured in New York

Adl has made sure to differentiate Judaism from Zionism, the movement which drove the move to create a separate Jewish homeland.

The Jewish heroine, Leila, is not portrayed as a Zionist. However, Leila's brother, the villain of the show, is one.

"You will find very nice Jewish people; they are very Egyptian, they like Egypt very much," he says. "And you will find in the same family, one like Leila's brother."

Critics find the show unsettling as it not only depicts an ordinary Jewish family but also because not all Muslims are depicted in the best light.

On a local talk show, a writer criticised the show and called it offensive.

Medhat el-Adl is, however, fed up with all the criticism.

"I want to say to everyone, to the TV and the newspapers, please let me enjoy my success," he says.

He is happy, however, that so far it's the most popular show of the season.

This article originally appeared on NPR

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