x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Controversial Abu Dhabi soap opera divides opinion of UAE viewers

The fact that Al Ikhwa (The Siblings) is set in Abu Dhabi, combined with its outrageous plot lines, means it is a hit among the UAE’s Arabic-speaking population.

Haifa Deeb, from Jordan, thinks the soap is entertaining but more like a Mexican drama than an Arab one. Delores Johnson / The National
Haifa Deeb, from Jordan, thinks the soap is entertaining but more like a Mexican drama than an Arab one. Delores Johnson / The National

Show divides viewers over its portrayal of Arabic speakers’ lives

ABU DHABI // The five adopted sons of a recently deceased business tycoon discover their father had a daughter they knew nothing about and she will be inheriting most of his fortune. From then on their lives become a turmoil of scandal, revenge and betrayal.

The fact that the new television soap opera Al Ikhwa (The Siblings) is set in Abu Dhabi, combined with its outrageous plot lines, has made it controversial among the city’s Arabic-speaking population.

Nevertheless, many viewers believe that because the characters often dress provocatively, drink alcohol and engage in extramarital relationships, it does not accurately reflect the realities of Arab expat society in the UAE.

The show is co-produced by Abu Dhabi TV and stars several famous actors from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Algeria.

“It is entertaining, but not what we expected,” said Haifa Deeb, a 49-year-old bank worker from Jordan. “It seems like a Mexican soap opera, not one set in an Arab environment at all.

“I am used to watching Syrian soaps, which portray realistic and important social issues.”

While she enjoyed the show, she has some reservations. “[The producers] are trying to aim it at the youth, and hence it is different from our ideologies.”

She gave the example of a character who discovered he was not the biological father of his son. The man was not upset by the revelations and begged his wife to take him back.

“They show that it is OK for the woman to cheat on her husband ... is it possible for a man to be so cool with his wife betraying him? So unrealistic,” said Ms Deeb.

She was, however, impressed by the stunning scenery. “For the first time I am seeing Abu Dhabi on TV and it looks really beautiful. They chose nice locations to shoot in.”

From a legal standpoint, there are many holes in the plot, said Maryam Al Buraiki, 31, a communications specialist at the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department.

“In the UAE we do not have such a thing as adoption,” said the Emirati. “One can sponsor orphans and raise them, but you cannot register them under your name, it is not possible legally.”

Nor could a father allocate most of his inheritance to his biological daughter at the expense of his other offspring, she said, because of the Sharia concept that no will is imposed on heirs.

The heirs receive their share of the inheritance per Sharia stipulations. The will is only for those who are not heirs of the deceased, and even then they cannot receive more than one third of the inheritance.

So if she was not registered under his name as his daughter, and therefore was not a legal heir, he could not give most of his fortune to her, said Ms Al Buraiki.

“If the events of the series did indeed occur in Abu Dhabi, the characters would have been in prison a long time ago and facing many different charges,” she said.

Mohammed Abdul Mohsen, a veteran TV producer, anchorman and director, said the show was clever in what it left off-screen, leaving much of the scandal to the viewers’ imagination.

“Abu Dhabi has become the heart of the world, but instead of the show portraying its modern transition by showing the signs of civilisation and technology, I am seeing strange social behaviour ... this production has turned values and traditions upside down,” he said.

“Maybe the director wanted to attract more viewers. But technically speaking, the production is perfect,” he said.

Abeer Al Najjar, assistant professor of mass communication at the American University of Sharjah, saw the show differently. “It is not the media’s job to teach what is right and what is wrong,” she said.

TV shows were commercial and entertaining, Ms Al Najjar said, but their goal was not to teach ethics.

As for the arguments that the characters do not accurately portray Arabs, she said: “The Arab society likes to think it is one society but it is not. We have many differences – economic, social and what is acceptable and what is not.

“The UAE has many different societies because of immigration. There are big differences in the communities in the UAE, even those from the same nationality, because of different social and economic situations.”