The Show Must Go On: Syrian Ramadan soaps film in Lebanon

News Stories, 7 August 2013

© UNHCR/E.Dorfman
On the set of a Ramadan soap opera in Lebanon, the Syrian cast and film crew listen to the director's comments.

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Aug 7 (UNHCR) Mosalsalats, or TV soap operas, are a staple of Ramadan across the Arab world, and Syrians fleeing the bitter war in their homeland see no reason to stop the tradition.

After iftar, the evening meal when Muslims break their fast during the current month of Ramadan, tens of millions of people across the troubled Middle East unwind by watching a soap. In general, the stories are about Arab heroes and celebrated battles and are an integral and highly anticipated part of Ramadan.

And Syria is famous in the region for its TV soaps. Before the conflict began in March 2011, the small-screen series were one of the country's most prized exports and their production companies were highly respected. "Syrian TV shows during Ramadan used to be famous all over the world," said one Syrian in exile.

Now, with the industry nearly shut down in Syria, some of the productions¬ and their casts and crews have moved to Lebanon to be able to continue working.

Most cannot go back to Syria.

Although they are financially better off than the majority of refugees, those who fled could face a tough reception should they return. "There is a black list of actors [on the internet]," explained the Syrian observer.

But in Lebanon, they are resuming their work and continuing the tradition of telling the stories so integral to their culture. Saifeddine Al Sibaii, now working and living in Lebanon, is filming his latest soap, "Al Wilada Min Al Khasira," ("Giving birth from the hip") outside Beirut.

A UNHCR staff member visiting the crew and cast on location, took photographs of the actors being filmed in an abandoned building. In the script, they were holding someone from their community hostage because he had sided with the government, which they believed had failed to complete promised new homes for the people. The wait has been long and tensions are running high.

This is the basic storyline for the third part of a series on social issues that has been shown each of the last two years during Ramadan. This year it is being broadcast across the region by a cable station based in Abu Dhabi.

In this soap, which is very popular, Al Sibaii is referencing the Syrian war and the effect on its people. The director says the script obliquely asks: What should we as a people do? Can we keep going like this? Can we talk? Do we continue to sit back and kill each other or is there another solution?

Although Al Sibaii has left Syria, he says that in his heart he is still there. He is engaged with filming and work, but says that he and all of the actors worry about what's going on in their country and they are often depressed. They are displaced and uncertain what their future will bring.

The female director Abeer Esber has been working in recent weeks on her Ramadan drama, "Al Obour," ("The Transition") in a mountainous region of Lebanon. Although she is telling a traditional story, it has a sci-fi slant, which is an unusual approach to a traditional saga.

The basic storyline is told through an alien who is looking for a new world, one that does not have a ruler or people to be ruled. At the end of the story, after the country has been wrecked, the alien promises that she will get the citizens back to where they began before the acts of destruction.

Throughout Esber's dramatic script she asks the viewers existential questions: What is homeland? What is power? Why do people have to suffer from the mistakes of others?

Esber has been living and working in Lebanon for the last six months. Many of the actors in her production must remain quiet shunning all interviews in order to continue working. Esber and her actors grieve that the arts sector in Syria has been destroyed. "Each day I have to start all over again to motivate everyone, but the actors are professionals and they do their jobs very well."

By Elena Dorfman in Beirut, Lebanon

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

2008 Nansen Refugee Award

The UN refugee agency has named the British coordinator of a UN-run mine clearance programme in southern Lebanon and his civilian staff, including almost 1,000 Lebanese mine clearers, as the winners of the 2008 Nansen Refugee Award.

Christopher Clark, a former officer with the British armed forces, became manager of the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre-South Lebanon (UNMACC-SL) n 2003. His teams have detected and destroyed tons of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and tens of thousands of mines. This includes almost 145,000 submunitions (bomblets from cluster-bombs) found in southern Lebanon since the five-week war of mid-2006.

Their work helped enable the return home of almost 1 million Lebanese uprooted by the conflict. But there has been a cost – 13 mine clearers have been killed, while a further 38 have suffered cluster-bomb injuries since 2006. Southern Lebanon is once more thriving with life and industry, while the process of reconstruction continues apace thanks, in large part, to the work of the 2008 Nansen Award winners.

2008 Nansen Refugee Award

Lebanese Returnees Receive Aid

UNHCR started distributing emergency relief aid in devastated southern Lebanese villages in the second half of August. Items such as tents, plastic sheeting and blankets are being distributed to the most vulnerable. UNHCR supplies are being taken from stockpiles in Beirut, Sidon and Tyre and continue to arrive in Lebanon by air, sea and road.

Although 90 percent of the displaced returned within days of the August 14 ceasefire, many Lebanese have been unable to move back into their homes and have been staying with family or in shelters, while a few thousand have remained in Syria.

Since the crisis began in mid-July, UNHCR has moved 1,553 tons of supplies into Syria and Lebanon for the victims of the fighting. That has included nearly 15,000 tents, 154,510 blankets, 53,633 mattresses and 13,474 kitchen sets. The refugee agency has imported five trucks and 15 more are en route.

Posted on 29 August 2006

Lebanese Returnees Receive Aid

Lebanon Crisis: UNHCR Gears Up

The UN refugee agency is gearing up for a multi-million-dollar operation in the Middle East aimed at assisting tens of thousands of people displaced by the current crisis in Lebanon.

Conditions for fleeing Lebanese seeking refuge in the mountain areas north of Beirut are precarious, with relief supplies needed urgently to cope with the growing number of displaced. More than 80,0000 people have fled to the Aley valley north of Beirut. Some 38,000 of them are living in schools.

In close collaboration with local authorities, UNHCR teams have been working in the mountain regions since early last week, assessing the situation and buying supplies, particularly mattresses, to help ease the strain on those living in public buildings.

Lebanon Crisis: UNHCR Gears Up

Lebanon: A Tradition Yields New OpportunitiesPlay video

Lebanon: A Tradition Yields New Opportunities

UNHCR and partners are training scores of Syrian and Lebanese women in traditional fabric printing – helping to sustain centuries-old techniques and provide livelihoods for refugees and host communities.
Emergency Resettlement – One Family's Journey to a New LifePlay video

Emergency Resettlement – One Family's Journey to a New Life

After their family fled Syria, young brothers Mohamed and Youssef still were not safe. Unable to access medical treatment for serious heart and kidney conditions, they and the rest of their family were accepted for emergency resettlement to Norway.
Lebanon: Fadia's StoryPlay video

Lebanon: Fadia's Story

A former nurse, Fadia found life as a refugee in Lebanon to be especially difficult without employment. She counts herself lucky to be living in a shelter paid for by aid agencies, but food and other necessities are harder to come by. Fadia's is one of 145,000 Syrian families in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq headed by women. Poverty, isolation and fear of exploitation are just some of the hardships they face.