3 October 2010
Over the decades the typical town alley has been depicted in television dramas as an ideal model of the moral values of magnanimity and harmony. This year during Ramadan, the TV drama serial al-Hara (The Alley) was shown on national channels and gave an unprecedented image of poverty in Egypt—one that was, for once, realistic.
Oh, the anguish
Written by Ahmed Abdullah and directed by Sameh Abdel-Aziz, The Alley begins with documentary scenes of Cairo’s alleyways at their worst, revealing the world of drug addicts; elderly people defeated by ill health; families torn apart; and poverty in the extreme.
There is no main character in The Alley. The hero is the alley itself and the community living in it. The warmth and neighbourliness, regardless of religion, shines through and is the best thing about the drama. There is a firm tie between Saadiya, a Christian woman played by Salwa Mohamed Ali, and Safiya, a Muslim woman played by Sawsan Badr. Their friendship extends to their families who share one another’s good times and comfort one another in hard times. Both women suffer from kidney problems as a result of the polluted water. Safiya tries to save her neighbour by donating her kidney, but the tragic outcome is that they both lose their lives.
Saadiya’s emigrant son, Adel, returns from the United States to bid the last farewell to his mother who had incessantly dreamt that her son might come back. In a tragic death scene which broke the hearts of viewers all around Egypt, the son expresses his agony with, “Forgive me, Mother; farewell, my aunt.”
Away from religion, the serial showed the marriage of a Muslim man to a Christian woman, each keeping to their own religion. Regardless of the social value of incident—intermarriage is heavily censured in Egypt—it was meant as an attempt to stress notions of co-existence and citizenship.
Another character, Tammam, played by Salah Abdullah, is a religious propagandist and at the same time an employee at the Ministry of Agriculture. Because he is fond of giving sermons he becomes imam of the alley’s mosque and later a preacher on a satellite TV. Tammam is a gentle man who is not prejudiced against the ‘other’ where religion is concerned, yet he throws his son, Shawqi, out of the house because he enjoys folk singing, which is—for Tammam—a sinful activity. This does not prevent Shawqi, however, from marrying a nightclub singer.
The Alley candidly tackles electoral corruption, highlighting the electoral bribing among the poor, who are asked to vote for a candidate they do not even know in return for EGP50. Viewers are moved by the sight of a poor girl, Suad, unable to resist the money of a Khaliji (a man from one of the Gulf states). She agrees to marry to him although he already has two wives.
Because of poverty another young woman never marries, even though she would have liked to. She becomes involved in politics and misses the age of marriage.
Yet there is a dark side. An ambitious officer—played by the gifted young actor Bassem Samra—abandons his beloved and kills his sister who has secretly married.
The Alley offers a clear condemnation of the authorities who know about the miserable conditions of the inhabitants of this and other similar alleys, but take no action. It paints a picture, too, of the deep humanitarian streak of an underclass that has little else left.
The serial was partly shot in studios of the Media Production Town using a purpose-built set designed by Islam Youssef, but mostly in the allies of the underprivileged Abigiya district in Cairo. The residents were happy to join in as extras. It is the third joint work between Abdullah and Abdel-Aziz after their two successful films Al-Farah (The Wedding) and Cabaret.