CAIRO — Egyptian authorities are trying to arouse patriotism with Ramadan serials on the Arab-Israeli conflict, even though some viewers see the move as a deliberate bid to distract from daily woes.
Five serials on the conflict are airing on Egyptian television during the holy month, two of them portraying the internal struggle of Arab Jews split between integration in Arab countries and the pull of Zionism.
"There is a move to revive patriotism, particularly since there have been a few stories of spies in recent years in Egypt," producer Hisham Shaaban told AFP.
His company, King Tut Productions, is behind two serials -- "Matkhafoosh" (Don't be Scared) and "Harb al-Gawasseess" (The Spy War) -- both of which were commissioned by the information ministry.
The first is about a talk show host, while The Spy War for the first time tells the story of Samia Fahmy, who was arrested and executed along with her fiancee for spying for Israel after the 1967 war.
Documents about the Fahmy case had so far been classified.
"We had the full support of the Egyptian intelligence services. They gave us information to help us make the serial," Shaaban said.
Rekindling interest in the conflict is not easy, however.
"In recent times, interest in the Palestinian question has been dwindling on the Arab street. Everything seems like old news on satellite channels and in the papers," said Mahmud Zaki, a media professor who stars in Matkhafoosh.
"There was a move to revive interest in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and re-ignite patriotic feelings," Zaki told AFP.
Shaaban believes interest in regional politics is returning, though, in part because of the election of US President Barack Obama, who is seen as departing from predecessor George W. Bush's confrontational policies.
The serials are "relevant to the period we are living in, Arabs, Jews, Obama who came to Egypt," Shaaban said of the American president's keynote address in Cairo on June 4 in which he reached out to the Muslim world.
"Egyptian people are affected by drama -- it fills them with enthusiasm and energy."
Some people on the bustling streets of the Egyptian capital see the government's move as an attempt to distract them from the daily grind, sky-rocketing prices and unemployment.
"It's just to keep us occupied, so we don't have to think about the real problems of unemployment and poverty," said Soad Mohammed, a student at Cairo University.
"Israel is a very easy subject to use because most people in Egypt sympathise with the Palestinians," she added.
"We can't find an enemy? Let's talk about Israel," said Ahmed Mahmud. "We should be focusing on people's problems, poverty... and stop talking about Israel and spies. We need to focus on the real domestic issues."
"Law Kont Nassi" (If You Forgot) chronicles changes in Egyptian society after the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973, while "Al Bawaba al-Thania" (The Second Gate) tells of a mother whose son is kidnapped and taken to Israel.
"Ana Qalbi Dalily" (My Heart is My Guide), a biopic of late Egyptian Jewish singer Layla Murad, tells the story of the Jewish community in the 1920s, 30s and 40s and the split between those who considered Egypt their homeland and refused to migrate to Palestine and those who did leave.
Viewers and critics alike agree that this year's Ramadan serials have gone to some lengths to try to portray different sides of the controversial and sensitive Middle East conflict.
"We can see the issue from their (Israeli) point of view and can therefore come up with different conclusions," lawyer Mohammed Munib told AFP.
"In the past, we have been used to thinking of Israelis as enemies, when there should be peace," he added.
The patriotic messages are hard to miss, however.
Producer Shaaban said that in "Don't be Scared," Zionism was an important theme.
"What we are trying to say is that when you live in a country, your children live in that country, your ancestors live in that country and you should be loyal to it," he said.
"As a Muslim, your loyalty is not to Mecca and Saudi Arabia."
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