For Adel, the best option was to leave the house and go to the nearby cafe where he could enjoy great moments of elation watching the basketball match.
After all, he has been waiting for the Olympics to immerse himself in the fantastic world of international competition between the best teams on the planet.
However, in his anticipation for the Games, held every four years, for which he bought a large TV set, the latest available, he did not foresee his wife’s enthusiasm for the numerous new drama series screened continuously during the long Ramadan evenings and often repeated the next day for those who missed them.
The result was an open standoff over which station should be on during the day or in the evening.
In the beginning, he tried to resist and to make his wife “see the light”. But ultimately, his resistance waned as her arguments about the limited options for her to have fun after long hours of preparing food won her the case. He could after all go to the cafÃ© and watch matches, while no public place would stream a Turkish, Syrian or Egyptian drama.
Their case is not unique in Arab households this Ramadan when the Olympic Games in London clashed with the feast of TV dramas shown on a multitude of Arab stations competing for large segments of viewers.
In the competition between sports and dramas, both immensely popular among Arab populations, the TV remote control becomes the most important tool in the household and, underneath, the definition of gender roles gains a new significance.
“I am willing to give up anything to ensure that we have happy family gatherings and that there are no arguments between me and my husband,” Maryam Hatem, a teacher, said. “But, I am not ready to give up watching a good TV drama for a football or basketball match. I do insist on watching the drama, especially that my husband can share his moments of sports glory with his friends in a majlis or at a cafÃ© where the collective enthusiasm in fact makes for a great watching,” she said.
Raneem Rashed believes that dramas are “much more significant than sweaty men running after a ball of air.”
“In a drama, you have events, twists that keep you really attentive whereas in sports, it is total platitude, although there is some suspense at times,” the laboratory technician said. “I happen to sit at times with my husband when he is following a football match, but it is not out of enthusiasm. He is my husband and I want to share, to some extent, his hobbies. But when it comes to Ramadan, we all know that the TV dramas are the best produced by Arabs or Turks, and I do not want to miss them,” she said.
For her, leaving the husband in charge of the remote control means watching only sports, news, boring movies and history programmes.
Tariq Mohammad said that he did not believe that the television remote control was still a symbol of power or virility in the house.
“We all grew up with the notion that the father had the ultimate power and as such he had to keep the remote control when we sat together to watch television,” he said. “But now, things have changed and the remote control is for whoever can present the best arguments to watch a specific programme or event,” said the bank employee.
He preferred to have his wife watch her dramas while he went out with friends.
“It is Ramadan, and my friends and I have a tendency to meet every evening to go to a majlis for some time where we meet more people and discuss everything from events in the country and far beyond to sports. Then, we head to a coffee shop before we go home, often to find our wives glued to the TV, watching with awe and fascination, the dramas. Maybe we cannot understand the passion they have for these dramas, but likewise, they do not often appreciate how much we like football matches,” he said.
For Mohammad Dhaif, the standoff over enthusiasm for the Olympic Games or for melodramas is often alongside gender lines.
“Men want real action, not fictitious events. They want sweat and competition, not tears or unrealistic declarations of love,” said the ministry employee. “It sounds very simplistic, but that is the reality on the ground. Although dramas do have male audiences, it is often women who watch them and relate to them while men in general still prefer sports and athletic competition,” he said.
He added that with modern technology, all segments of the society could find their pleasure without arguments or fights.
”The standoff used to be around the TV set and who has the remote control. Now, thanks to modern means of communication and the media, there are new options and alternatives and families can watch whatever they like from the comfort of their rooms, offices or even coffee shops thanks to their media,” he said.
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