DEARBORN — Every night after dusk during Ramadan this year and last, Arabs around the world, Muslim or not, have been united, not by anything religious or nationalistic, but by a phenomenon known as “Bab Al Hara.”
The second installment of the addictive television series has had tens of millions of feverish Arabs flocking to living rooms and cafes at scheduled times every day for the past month.
|Arab Americans watch “Bab Al Hara” at Greenfield Cafe in Dearborn during Ramadan. PHOTO: TAAN/Khalil AlHajal|
In some Arab Israeli cities there have been reports of “voluntary curfews,” during airtimes of the Syrian soap opera.
The show mashes together enough drama, comedy, romance, history, violence and handlebar mustaches into 45-minutes to attract both women and men, young and old.
In Dearborn, a group of about ten men meet at Greenfield Café every night to watch Bab Al Hara after breaking fast.
Bilal Amen, the only American-born of the group, watches as intently as the others.
“It’s the only show where the older and younger generations get together and watch it,” he said.
|A scene from ‘Bab Al Hara’|
The others tease him.
“Every five minutes, he asks us what happened,” said café manager Mohammad Vatandoust about Amen, who sometimes struggles with the traditional Syrian dialect spoken by the characters.
The show takes place in the 1920s or 30s in French-occupied Syria. The fictional neighborhood of Al-Daba is the center of suspenseful plotlines colored by misunderstandings, transgressions of strict traditional codes of behavior and the resulting overreactions.
“Everybody watches it,” said Ali Yassine, another fan in the Dearborn café.
“It’s just nice. It’s the rich tradition and culture. All that stuff that our parents lived.”
The show’s popularity has challenged many Egyptian series, which usually dominate iftar-hour airwaves. Director Bassam Al-Mulla commented on the show’s nostalgic feel in an interview with a Palestinian radio station.
“Like every Arab citizen, I feel great frustration over the collapse of our values. So when we return to the past we attempt to shed new light on the wonderful values of that time.”
The submissive female and overbearing male characters meant to reflect older times also make for a lot of teasing and controversy.
Airing several times a day on different satellite television stations, many watch the same episodes over and over.
As Ramadan nears its end, fans of Bab Al Hara are inching closer to the edges of their seats in anticipation of the finale.
Will Abu Issam divorce his wife?
Will the men of Al Daba draw their daggers again for another battle with the bordering Abu Nar neighborhood?
And the most pressing question: How will we possibly wait another year until next Ramadan for the third season of Bab Al Hara?