Popular Syrian drama left open for sixth part

Part 5 tackled espionage and Muslim-Christian coexistence

A popular Syrian drama that has received one of the highest viewing scores in the Arab TV history closed its part five on the final day of Ramadan but its director unexpectedly left the door open for a sixth part.

Bab El Hara, broadcast for the past five years, devoted most scenes of its part 5 to espionage and coexistence between Muslims and Christians but the ending has left the disappointed audience guessing on whether there will be part 6 following previous hints by producers that part 5 will be the last.

While declining to confirm there will be a sixth part, Its director Moumen Al Mulla appeared to have left the door open for the shooting of a new part of the drama, regarded as the most popular Arab TV drama over the past four years.

In comments published by MBC Net this week, an affiliate of the MBC satellite television which has broadcast the series, Mulla said the shooting of part 6 depends on the public, adding that he received a letter that six million Palestinians want to see the production of a sixth part of the drama.

"Shooting of part 6 depends on the audience, who has the final decision in this regard....when we shot part 5, we had intended it to be the final episode so we can devote our efforts to another work," he said.

"But as you see, talk in the street is growing and they want one more part...I have received a letter from some Palestinians in the occupied territories saying they can guarantee that six million Palestinians would vote for a sixth part."

Bab El Hara (the neighbourhood's gate) has been shown in most Arab countries during Ramadan over the past four years and a fifth part, supposed to be the final episode, has been broadcast over the past month.

The series chronicles the daily happenings and family dramas in an old neighborhood in the Syrian capital Damascus in the inter-war period under French rule when the population yearned for independence.

The first four parts of the series were directed by Moumen's brother, Bassam Al Mullah, of the best known Arab directors. The first installment of the series, comprising 31 episodes, was aired during Ramadan in 2006 and it enjoyed broad viewership throughout the region.

The second part was highly anticipated, receiving even wider acclaim in Ramadan of 2007.

A third installment was aired in Ramadan of 2008 and it focused on the struggle against the French occupation and the post-marriage lives of the children of Abu Issam, the local doctor and barber. The fourth series was dedicated to the popular struggle against the French.

Part 5 gave extensive coverage to spy activities and religious tolerance as the producers of the series apparently wanted this installment to coincide with the recent arrests in Lebanon of a pro-Israel spy network.

Syrian star Fayez Azaa acted as the spy sent by the French into the neighbourhood to gather information about the resistance and buy most of its property as part of a plan by the occupiers to seize the entire neighbourhood.

Azaa, posing as Mamoun, the absent son of the neighbourhood's late leader, was in fact an officer in the French army. He succeeded in performing most of his task before he was exposed and executed in the final episode.

"I believe the message of this part is directed to all those who think of betraying their country for Israel and any other enemy," said Imad Rabbani, an Abu Dhabi-based school teacher, who has watched all parts of Bab El Hara.

Although espionage was the dominant theme in Bab El Hara 5, the director managed to get another message to the audience-religious coexistence.

Part 5 opens with an old Syrian Christian woman lying in hospital after she was shot by French soldiers during a confrontation.

Umm Joseph, performed by Syrian star Muna Wasef, was wounded after killing many French soldiers just near the neighbourhood to avenge the death of her son and other relatives at the hands of the French.

Residents of the neighbourhood, mostly Muslim, knew Umm Jospeh and what she had done. They loved her and sent an armed group to kidnap her.

After they managed to sneak her out, they gave her shelter at the house of a senior member of the neighbourhood.

The French went mad after learning of the incident and stormed the area in search for Umm Joseph. Despite their threats of mass punishment of the neighbourhood, the residents refuse to disclose her whereabouts.

In the final episodes of part 5, Umm Joseph fully recovered and already won the hearts of all Muslim residents in the neighbourhood. Umm Joseph and local women were often shown together, eating, chatting and joking.

To underscore religious tolerance and coexistence, the director showed Umm Joseph with a large cross dangling from her neck throughout the series.

She was often seen mentioning Christ in her conversation with the neighbourhood's women and in her pleas to God to protect the residents from the French enemy.

Another scene that exposed the producers' allusion to Moslem-Christian cohesion involved Umm Joseph when she expressed her wish for her Christian niece to marry a Muslim man from the neighbourhood. Senior residents quickly welcomed the suggestion and got her the would-be husband.

"Umm Joseph is not a mere person...she was apparently intended to symbolize the Christians while the neighbourhood symbolized the Muslims...they were frequently seen protecting and supporting each other and uniting against a common enemy...I think the series is talking about religious tolerance and coexistence," said Nohad Kawash, a Palestinian fan of Bab El Hara.

"Umm Joseph has also shown us that women played a role in resisting the occupation... I think she is an example and a lesson for all of us."

The execution of the spy by the neighbourhood's men to the chanting of women brought an end to his life and activities but left many questions unanswered.

The end, according to many viewers, looked incomplete as the neighbourhood received a shocking letter saying that one of its most respected men, Abu Issam, was not dead but alive in a French prison.

Abu Issam, personified by Syrian star Abbas al Nouri, was the main character in Bab El Hara's first three parts before he was presumably killed.

Nouri's sudden exit from the series is believed to have followed a rift with the director. But there have been reports that the two have patched up their rift, giving rise to rumors about Abu Issam's comeback.

After receiving the letter, residents decided to carry out a daring operation to rescue Abu Issam while the French escort him out of jail to a military court.

The final two-minute scene of part 5 showed Abu Issam's two sons were among a group of armed men riding their horses out of the neighbourhood to carry out that operation. The scene gave rise to speculation that the producers intend to shoot a sixth part.

That feeling strengthened when the following message from the director was shown on the screen "see you in another work."

In his remarks to MBC net, Mulla said:"The espionage line is over....the social line is not and is left open......perhaps this will not be liked by the audience but we did so because Bab El Hara is a very special experience."


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