Having built his entire career on being a vocal adversary to the Muslim Brotherhood, seasoned writer Waheed Hamed’s efforts culminate in his most ambitious and condensed take on the subject yet: Al-Gama'a, an overarching saga of the notorious group’s origin that is centred on its founder Hassan Al Banna.
Produced by Albatross Film Production Company–the same company that brought us Assal Eswed and Dokkan Shahata– this TV series is bound to ruffle some feathers as it attempts to tie in the many social dilemmas plaguing modern-day Egypt with the fundamentalist stream that began with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood almost 100 years ago.
Just the fact that Waheed Hamed is involved in this project (he’s best known for writing the script to Adel Imam’s 90s masterpiece Al-Erhabi and is definitely not shy about voicing his criticism of fundamentalist movements) is enough to spawn a pre-emptive backlash and put a huge target mark on the project. However, as the revered showbiz proverbial goes; there is no such thing as bad publicity.
Not to prematurely jump on Al-Gama'a’s bandwagon, but everything that we’ve seen and heard so far about the show indicates high quality. Arab actors just have a natural knack for roles with gravity (they’re almost the equivalent of British actors in Hollywood) and the inspired casting of Jordanian Eyad Nassar as Hassan Al Banna is definitely a step in the right direction.
The series features many cinema heavyweights, including Ezzat El Alaily in the role of Abdalla Kassab, in addition to Abdel Aziz Makhion, Salah Abdallah, Abdallah Farghaly and Sawsan Badr. Box office stars such as Menna Shalaby, Amr Waked and Ahmed Helmi make special appearances. Youssra El Lozy and Karim Assem also star, fresh off their collaboration on the rather unfortunate film Belalwan El Tabi’eya.
The structure itself is an interesting mix of contemporary and historical narrative threads echoing one another in a cause-and-effect fashion. The choice to tell the story of the brotherhood through the personal story of Al Banna offers a humanising twist on what could have been a very dry and pondering epic. All these details signal a thoughtful and promising series to come.
Al-Gama'a's events start in the year 2006 when a group of Azhar University students perform a military show in the aftermath of an unfair student election. Posing the question 'Whatever happened to the Egyptians?'– a question made famous by Galal Amin’s iconic critique of Egyptian society– the show then jumps back to the beginning of the last century to follow Al Banna in his early years, from his foundation of the Muslim Brotherhood to his assassination at the end of the series. Plans are already set for a second part of the series next Ramadan, which will deal with the group through the Nasser era.
With a budget exceeding the 50-million-LE mark, Al-Gama'a is in the upper echelon of high production value. And while the budget is not inflated by the demands of star power, the period setting must have called for a lot of dough. Hopefully hiring a film director with a keen eye like Yassin means that it will all be captured on the screen.
The TV series will be aired on local TV channels and Cairo Drama; but to catch the uncensored version, be sure to check it out on Al Kahera Wal Nas, which promises to air an unedited version. Airing time will be announced soon.