Bab Il-Hara’s Testosterone Overdose

Bab il-7ara was a big hit this year during Ramadan, and in fact people still seem to be talking about it in Jordan. I’ll admit right off the bat that I was too busy to watch more than 4 or 5 whole episodes but I found it astonishing to see the wide spectrum of people who watched the Syrian drama set in the 1930’s. It found a fan base in the young and old, as well as the men and women. The feedback I get from a lot of people is that they were attracted mostly to the way ‘things were done’ in those days. In other words, the men were men and the women were women. The men were the masculine types who stood up for things like honor, family, religion and community, while striving to be good fathers and husbands. This was their place in society. Meanwhile, the women also knew their place in society. They spent their lives being obedient good wives who took care of their husbands, even when they approached what would today be deemed an abusive state.

It’s almost obvious why the show appealed so much to its male fan base, no matter what their demographic. There is perhaps some sort of desire to see a return of such a society, with such social mechanisms in place; or maybe its more of a lament for the old days. In fact, a lot of Jordanian men venture out to Syria where they feel girls are still brought up to be “real women” and “good wives”.

But why women loved the show was a little unclear to me. Especially in West Amman, which is far from the religious and cultural conservatism that exists throughout most of the country. Some have suggested that on some level, Arab women, also find such a time and society appealing. The husbands, fathers and/or brothers were not really abusive but they were very controlling and certainly they practiced methods of dealing and speaking with the women in their lives (save their mothers) in a way many would call brutish, rough or abrasive.

The women never ever talked back to their husbands or fathers, and if they did, it would be reason for divorce as the show so clearly demonstrated during one of its climaxes.

So it makes me wonder if in reality women are more keen on having men in their lives that are commanding and perhaps teetering on the edge of abrasiveness. I’ve seen some of the most intelligent women fall for men who treat them like absolute garbage, and yet they stick with them like glue to a feather. Many have even shared that, deep down, they prefer men to behave this way as its a demonstration of their caveman masculinity. And this is exactly what I see a lot of in Jordan. Smart, western-educated, even liberal, and feminist-types are constantly tied up with testosterone-laden brutes.

At first I thought it could just be an “Arab thing”, but I don’t think this social paradigm is restricted to a specific culture, people or society as I see it all over the place.

Which naturally leads me to my second inquiry.

Are those really the qualities that define masculinity; that define what it means to be a man?

Are both men and women still trying to overcome millions of years worth of behavioral programming, with even the best of us finding it too difficult to resist?

If so, please excuse me while I go beat someone over the head with a ganwa.


  • it is what you said and other things … Women think in a very complicated way … in fact reading “Men are form Mars and Women are From Venus” can give you an idea … but they think in a whole different way than men … its quite complicated … but what you said in the post is probably true ..

  • Nas.. I admit that I didn’t watch as much of the show as you did, but the other day, triggered by comments some readers left on my post about my Injaz class and how young girls see themselves, I decided to start a discussion in class, asking those girls why they like Bab El-7ara, and whether they feel it reflects a historic era or is somewhat similar to life today. I was hoping they would say, as suggested by the reader who commented, that this shows how Arab society was IN THE PAST and how it ought to be changing.

    I was shocked when one girl answered “I like the show because it teaches women how they’re supposed to behave and how they need to obey their fathers and husbands!”

    And all the girls are absolutely in love with Mo3taz!


  • i am one of the critics of the Syrian soap opera for its portrayel of women as meek and subservient and scheming. Even though it was accurate picture of Syria and much of the Arab world in the 1930s, because of the total Ramadan TV package that was problematic in its overall direction. fact is, around that time in the 1930s, not even the US or many western countries faired well when it came to women’s rights.

    but i was equally uncomfortable with other period soap operas in past Ramadans that tried to falsely inject liberal thinking into a period TV series that lacked it. some of the Jordanian period soap operas, especially those by Adnan Awamleh (one of the best in the business) ruined a perfectly nice soap opera, like Scheherazade, with liberal lectures in dialogs about women’s equality. imaging folks a thousands years ago speaking of gender equality using 20th century terms.

    so it’s damned if you damned if you don’t?

    for me, the real reason I was bothered by Bab El Hara Ramadan series is that it came at a Ramadan when another popular series called King Farouq was trying to salvage the image of one of Egypt’s most corrupt and treasonous leaders, the very dead King Farouq. The whole Ramadan package was troubling in the sense you get the impression someone is trying to make fashionable the sort of backwardness we should be ready to leave behind. the Farouq series was funded by the Saudis.

    Had it not for this overall backward Ramadan TV package, i would have considered Bab el Hara like any other period drama be it a Western or Medieval. But something is terribly wrong where Arab mass entertainment is heading, especially programs funded by Gulf money or programs trying to cater to Gulf sponsors money. Gulf oil money had a devastating impact on Arab culture and religion.

    And that takes us to the strategic picture.

    oil money has created contradictions in Arab values where on one side, it harmed Arab women. oil money fueled the explosive rise in soft-soft porn satellite channels under the cover of music channels, it nurtured a culture of runaway consumerism, while promoting religious movements that undermine women (Mesyar, Mysfar, Musyaf marriages that makes legal the loss of women’s rights in exchange for halal sex) , at the same time they funded perverse radical forms of Islam that tolerates imperialism and colonialism but attacks liberal Muslims and even tolerates murder of Muslims of other sects, fueling the Sunni Shiite rift)

    I am afraid Oil money has done far more damage than good. all we have to show for it are buildings, cars, and lots of backwardness. with royal Saudis in charge of some of the most popular Arab TV channels, the downfall will continue.

  • Omar…and remember who will be managing ATV. another saudi with ties to saudi family. between the the two miscreant cultures of Neoliberism and Gulfism, we are toast..we are totally screwed beyond hope.

  • Back to your question. I don’t agree that being a brute is equal to the male character. And surely I have seen plenty of Americans married to brutish non-Arab men; it is not only an ‘Arab’ thing. Unfortunately, the Arabs have taken the role to new limits. There are too many men who have taken Islam not as a relgion, but as a cultural context and have misused it. Take the whole definition of Qiwama and what men think that means today. That it is an excuse to boss women around and abuse their relatives. The Prophet Muhammad, PBUH, was the ultimate man. He was strong, yet he could darn his socks. If there was no dinner, he fasted. Now give me a man around here who would turn the other cheek if the food was not on the table. Hrumpf! I did not watch that show nor do I watch any other Arabic soap operas. I argue to my husband, when he recommends that the kids watch for the Arabic language benefits, that we might as well watch ‘Days of Our Lives’ to improve our English as well. I think the key to change this whole mess, is for women to assert their God given rights and for women to raise their sons with respect for womenkind. If you hate how your husband treats you, why do you raise your son to behave the same way? We have to stop the cycle.

  • Yeah exactly. You never see a show on a legendary Arab female, like Fadwa Toukan or Leila Khaled. Bab el 7ara was the most chauvinistic show I’ve ever seen, and people (including some women) seem to really love it because of that. I’m actually beginning to think that some Arab women are purely masochistic because they seem to enjoy being abused and controlled by men.

    It’s things like this that make me want to khalas, give up. I mean why should you try to change a demographic that doesn’t want to change? Why should you try to improve anything, if self-improvement will leave you crucified?

  • I’ve never seen more than half of an episode at one sitting, but my mom was addicted and on Eid day I had to listen to hours of bab il 7ara recap at every single gathering.

    My theory on its popularity with arab women is that it actually gives them some kind of comfort and makes them feel better about their lives espcially those that struggle with strict husbands and/or overbearing in-laws but don’t like to talk about it or don’t admit they have those issues.

  • To address your other points…’s not an “arab” thing, women of other culture have this same complex manifested in different ways. The most unlikely women can be attracted to the “bad boys” or “players”, probably what you’re calling the testosterone-laden brutes, and many women take pride in admitting their ex-boyfriend was too much of a “bad boy” which is many times a euphamism for abusive jailbird. I’m not sure if this is “behavioral programming” I’d say it’s atleast partly nature.

    What’s a ganwa?

  • What’s the big deal? what about Nimer Ben Odwan. isn’t that as offensive as Bab el Hara? how come it did not bother anyone. i found Farouq to be the most offensive of all ramadan shows the way it tried to paint a corrupt leader as some sort of a hero.

  • I completely disagree with all of you , the Syrian episode gained tremendous success because it reflected how life in Damascus used to be whether it’s positive or negative toward women and how simpistic and intriguing the Syrian or Arab society conducted themselves,the success for the episode was carried out by real Syrian professional Actors and actresses .
    Life in the thirties and forties was simple and yet very hard for both women and men and the Bab Al Hara episode has shown that especially how men in those days and years treated women whether in negative or positive way and the episode has shown that relationship.

  • Batir ,,,,I was reading Nassem’s previous posts,and you have implicated me as Almutangel,why are you doing that Batir? if I want to post any comments on any blog or Nassem’s I will carry my nick name and my Blogs with me and don’t need to hid my self behind any other nick name except mine.and what different and benefit will I gain by calling myself almutangel?

  • Hmmmm

    Very interesting article indeed ya Nas … I have watched the show from start to end and I did like it but not for craving a similar man like the ones portrayed in the series; it is rather the simplicity of the dialog and that fact that the writer and director did not bore us with the heroic actions of fighting against the occupation … sure there was some light shedding on that but it was not overly exaggerated … but other series (especially Ramadan ones always focus on this fact as if we need to remind ourselves that one day; we could do something that we cannot do now?!)

    Believe it or not, a lot of men and women are still living in this mentality till today and they do feel the connection with the story because of that … to tell you the truth; I did not find the actions all so strange when the main character divorced his wife because she was disrespectful to him especially in front of their daughters and daughter in law … some of the older generations related to many things and remembered their own lives through the events of el 7ara

    The description of the era and the values that people lived by was amusing and the actors’ and actresses’ performances were really of a high standard …

    As for the stereotyping of men and women back then and now … I would not say that there will be a fair comparison here because of the time and era differences … and you do not have to beat anyone with a ganwa to be a real man … in our time now, men became highly dependent on their wives especially financially while looking back at that era, the men used to consider it a shame to take their wives’ money … I think you can say that SOME women might have a secret wish to be living in that time 🙂

    I like your article but the idea is far more complicated as us women are 😉

  • During Ramadan Iftar’s at my local Mosque and in the time between Maghrib and Esha’ prayer, I’d always see the Arab women sitting in a large circle discussing this Bab El-Hara. The impression I got was that they adored it to the extent that none held a Qur’an to reading during that period of time, nor were they interested in discussing Ramadan related matters.
    Anyways, I over heard most conversations, which were praise praise praise since they thought it is a true representation of Syrian Haraat life in the 30’s, yet add to that(taking the women representation; Firyal, Souad, … etc), most thought that it truly reflects universal nature of women; and for me, that was the most annoying part. Most thought that Firyal was a true representation of lots of Hara women.. some women would say, “Jad elniswan hummeh elli bikharbo byoot ba3d” Or ..Souad ma lazim ghiltat 3ala abu Essam infront of the kids.. or haik elzalameh ya bala (describing Mu3taz).. etc

    Out of curiosity, I saw several episodes (about 10), enough to feel so offended by the same things that the women were praising. True, it represents a segment of Syrian society in the early 30s, however, the representation of women was extreme I thought. I have not noticed any covertly signs of resistance by those women (something that is universal about women in general); women would accept being hit, slapped, kicked, without fighting back. And if one opened her mouth as a sign of protest, she’d be directly sent back to her father or brother’s house. Also, an obvious message in the series that you can’t ignore is that women were nothing but destruction to family life, other women’s lives, and the society at large. This becomes so annoying to me when you hear young educated women, believing that this is a true representation of universal behaviors of women. I tried discussing these issues with some of the women, and all what I got is that I am still single and still haven’t gotten introduced to the envy and evilness of other married women
    … OH MY GOD. I agree with Pheras Hilal, “It’s things like this that make me want to khalas, give up. I mean why should you try to change a demographic that doesn’t want to change? Why should you try to improve anything, if self-improvement will leave you crucified?”

    Back to the series, the thing is that it offers only one model of women– the completely submissive type who never resists bad treatment in any type or form. It also ignores the fact that other types of women, such as those who participated one way or the other in resistance and were politically engaged, existed in Syria of the 30’s.

  • Well I think people are waiting so long to watch the third version of bab el hara just as I am right now. The thing is all the arab people and everyone around the world liked these movie series so much. About the first version is very interesting that a guy like eida3shari steals money frim another guy and was sentenced to swear with his hand to qur’an that he didn’t steal that money. As he did, alot of qonsequences befell him, nightmares, the death of his wife, the death of one of his sons, and ofcourse the death of his own. As for second verision the characters: Mo3tez, and Abu Sh’hab were wack!!!!!!!!!!! The most favourite to all. Well Abu 3isam, poor guy handeled alot of pain of handeling his children, handling his divorce, and taking care of the neighbourhood of bab el hara 2!!!!!!!

  • the series is meant to be a reflection of a historical era. with all its positives and negativities.. the problem is with what ppl are expecting it to be.
    it seems to me that the arabic viewer is still immature when it come to what to expect from or how to react toward a work of art.
    until we learn to take lessons instead of showing blind emotional reactions , will still find our self naively nostalgic for all the wrong reasons

  • je suis une petite fille de 13ans.j’adore bab al hara et je l’ai regardé 3fois.c’est un feuilleton génial.j’aimerais bien que vous faites la 3eme partie avant ramadan sur suis tunisienne

  • I caught some of the series in Syria last summer but was not there to enquire about it much. I wonder about the way it portrays the political situation at the time. You say 30’s, another site said 20’s. What kind of political period are we looking at here? Thanks for your feedback!

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