An Egyptian lawyer has sued to stop state television rebroadcasting a soap opera that has touched a raw nerve by depicting the marriage of a Coptic Christian woman to a Muslim man.
Coptic rights lawyer Mamdouh Nakhla's bid to stop Awan al-Ward (Flowers in Bloom) comes too late to stop the current screening of the series, which has transfixed Egyptians during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. But if he succeeds, the state broadcaster will be banned from showing it again.
“I think it is offensive to the Coptic community,” Nakhla told me. “One of its central themes is the marriage of a Muslim man to a Coptic woman, which it portrays in a way that suggests it is commonplace, even though the Church rejects the notion of this kind of marriage.”
Egypt's population of 65 million people is predominantly Muslim but includes up to 10 million Coptic Christians. The soap, broadcast on state television, tells the story of a couple trying to find their kidnapped baby boy.
Although both his parents are Muslim, his grandmother is a Copt who married into a Muslim family. The plot threw open the possibility that the baby-snatcher could have been a conservative Christian or Muslim relative of the child.
Egyptian media said Information Minister Safwat al-Sherif had asked scriptwriter Wahid Hamed – known for courting controversy, especially on religious issues – to write a special Ramadan serial that dealt with the issue of national unity. Egypt experienced its worst communal violence in decades last new year when 21 people were killed in clashes between Copts and Muslims in a southern Egyptian village.
Some Egyptians have welcomed the television series as a taboo-breaker. “It's refreshing. It presents new ideas and treats issues that most programmes would shy away from, like inter-religious marriages and underhand practices such as bribery,” said Muslim office worker Sabry.
But Christine, a Coptic marketing executive, said the series was “over-the-top”. “It's offensive to both Muslims and Christians because it handles the issues unrealistically,” she said.
This article was first published by Reuters on 20 December 2000.