Eid in Egypt this year sees the broadcast of the final
episode of a TV series titled A Girl Called Zaat.
Produced by independent production company MIF in collaboration with BBC Media Action, the series is based on a book by critically
acclaimed Egyptian writer Sonallah Ibrahim.
It tells an allegorical tale of modern Egypt through its
main character, a woman called Zaat.
Through her life and work as a picture
editor in Egyptian TV news, the series reflects on the demise of the middle
class, increasing poverty, corruption, and the oppression of political opposition
under the three presidents who followed the overthrow of the monarchy:
Abdul-Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak.
Overtaken by history
The seeds for the TV series were sown back in early 2009,
when BBC Media Action started its collaboration with MIF in a project called
Socially Responsible Media Platforms for the Arab World.
A Girl Called Zaat was
selected for development because it would provide a great vehicle for
reflecting these themes in a popular mainstream format that would reach the
tens of millions of Arab viewers who cluster around the TV screen during
The book focused on Egypt from the 70s to the 90s but the
script was extended to take our heroine Zaat from the day she was born on the
eve of the Nasser revolution of 23 July 1952 to the eve of the scheduled presidential
elections of 2011.
Little did we know at the time quite how many more
revolutions and presidents the series would witness while in production.
The revolution of 25 January 2011 came just as filming
was about to begin.
Production was put on hold and the ending had to be
carefully reworked while all around political change was occurring faster than
scripts could be produced.
The production was finally completed, but as it was about
to go to air, a second seismic event hit the country.
The overthrow of
President Morsi split the country, taking the two opposing camps out on the
streets once again.
Despite the fact that this Ramadan, Egyptian viewers were
more focused on the real life drama around them than on the traditional blockbusting
seasonal TV dramas, A Girl Called Zaat has been widely watched and received
significant critical acclaim.
Tareq Shinnawi, one of Egypt's leading TV critics
rated it as his personal number one and described it as "setting a new standard
for Egyptian drama".
The series has just completed its first run on Dream TV
and it is scheduled to start its second and third runs on other Egyptian and
pan-Arab channels. It is expected to
reach tens of millions of views around the Arab world.
The drama within the drama
When it was first commissioned, A Girl Called Zaat was to air on
ERTU, Egypt’s state broadcaster. The director-general was a great
But soon after the 2011 revolution he was imprisoned in
Egypt's infamous Turra jail, accused of corrupt practices during the Mubarak
regime. He was acquitted after nearly two years, and took up a post in charge
of Dream TV.
One of his first decisions in his new job was to acquire the
rights to broadcast A Girl Called Zaat.
This meant the series was not subject to
official censorship; but as filming started in the spring of 2012, it had to
contend with the restrictive atmosphere under the Muslim Brotherhood's
The crew were even thrown out of a Cairo university
campus by the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled student union for showing the
female characters in 1970s mini-skirts.
But by the time the series went on air,
the Muslim Brotherhood government had been ousted.
One of Egypt's leading journalists and commentators,
Ibrahim Eissa, said in a TV discussion in early Ramadan that in his view people
should stop going out to demonstrate and stay in and watch A Girl Called Zaat instead.
Much has been written in the press about the lessons that the drama's historical perspective has to offer
After four years in the making the series has been
completed and like every drama it has an ending.
Egypt's political drama
continues to be played out in the streets.