“The Society”

“The Society”

A television series can cause uproar, raise a debate or start a dispute that would require the intervention of courts of law to be settled. But it is impossible to imagine that an organization of such size and history as the Society of the Muslim Brotherhood might disappear, vanish or have its presence on the political scene, in Egypt in particular and in the world in general, be affected because of a television series. Arab satellite television networks, as well as Egyptian television, are airing during the month of Ramadan a series entitled “The Society”, the events of which address the history of the Society of the Muslim Brotherhood, from even before it was founded by Sheikh Hassan Al-Banna in 1928 in the city of Ismailia.

In parallel with the series’ episodes, Egyptians are also following yet another chapter of the debate between the Brotherhood and the author of the series, writer Wahid Hamed, over the purpose of producing this series, the accuracy of the information it provides, and the sentences spoken by its protagonists – this in addition to objections by the Banna family to what they have considered to be the distortion of the man’s character, a matter which has reached courts of law to settle the dispute between the parties concerned. However, the matter which was noted to have strongly erupted as a result of the series is that very apprehension that exists among members of the Muslim Brotherhood that a work of drama on television was intended to affect the Society’s stance towards the parliamentary elections scheduled at the end of next November, and that the government stands behind producing this series in order to harm them, strike a blow against the Brotherhood, steer people away from it, and frighten the crowds of voters against voting for its candidates in the parliamentary elections.

Of course, no one from the government has responded to these accusations, but Hamed did respond, in statements to the press, with arguments that have failed to convince anyone from the Muslim Brotherhood, as he has of course denied that the government had anything to do with the series, asserting that it portrays his own personal viewpoint.

More importantly, some political analysts, on the other hand, considered that the series had succeeded at improving the Brotherhood’s image among popular and marginalized circles. Thus one who knew nothing about the Muslim Brotherhood now knows that it was originally a religious society, and that it was perhaps forced to politicize religion in order to defend it and in an effort to achieve a better life for people. Some of those who have written about this topic have accused the government of having sought to harm the Brotherhood, but to have ended up showing them in a good light – i.e. that the purpose which the government sought to achieve backfired, that people sympathized with Hassan Al-Banna and did not believe some of the information disparaging the Muslim Brotherhood that appears in the series, realizing that it was aimed at misrepresenting the man and his society, but considering it to be the series’ ticket to Egyptian television.

On the whole, one cannot ignore the attempts made by both sides to make use of the series to achieve political victory, and there is nothing wrong with that. Indeed, every political formation makes use of all surrounding circumstances to gain people’s trust, sympathy or support. But, more importantly, the series reflects misunderstanding not just of the Brotherhood’s history or of information relating to its political activity, but also of the bare minimum of vision regarding its members’ way of life and the way they interact with each other and with others, and even of the way they speak at their formal meetings, private gatherings or when their major figures participate in political forums – to the point where some scenes turned into comical ones despite the fact that the dramatic effect was not intended to cause laughter. But those close to the Muslim Brotherhood, and not just its members, considered the way of speaking and behaving portrayed to completely contradict what is known about members of the Brotherhood, who in the end are human beings and do not come from a different planet.

Moreover, the series also reflects a view of the Society held by some, amounting to the idea that members of the Muslim Brotherhood can only engage in certain behavior if it is aimed at achieving political gain – such that even if a major figure of the Brotherhood participates in a funeral or a wedding out of courtesy for someone from outside the group, his purpose would be something other than performing his duty of giving condolences or congratulations. In any case, the series is still controversial, but one cannot judge until after it has ended. Nevertheless, the political circumstances which Egypt is going through and the state of anticipation and of calm preceding the storm of the parliamentary elections are perhaps behind such a debate, aroused by the television series before its ending.