Heart-Winning Drama Tackles Prejudice, Promotes Rights

A new SAT-7 ARABIC drama will promote women’s and minority rights among millions of viewers in the Middle East. By allowing them to identify with those who are different, Backstage will encourage the tolerance that is greatly needed as new, coronavirus-related human rights abuses hit the region’s most marginalised people.

“This program presents the issues of freedom of belief, accepting the ‘other’, minority rights, and gender equality – all inside a story that will attract viewers,” says George Makeen, SAT-7 Arabic Channels Programming Director. The new drama takes viewers literally “backstage”, immersing them in the world of office politics and personal drama inhabited by employees at a production company in Egypt. But as viewers enjoy the engaging storylines, Backstage will also encourage them to look beneath the surface of the characters they meet – and to do the same for people in their own societies.

While the company office is at the centre of the drama, Makeen explains, “The workplace and the conflicts there are a metaphor for the divisions and issues that can arise between members of society in general.” Storylines intended to help viewers bridge these divisions include the journey of Ilia, a young Sudanese Christian refugee. Although Ilia faces discrimination in his daily life, he leans on his faith and flourishes when the company director becomes his unflinching advocate, refusing to do business with anyone who shows racist attitudes.

Meanwhile, a senior female staff member subverts expectations by exposing a family member who has sexually harassed an employee – taking action in a way that many women in the Middle East would not, to avoid shaming their families. Other storylines feature friendships built across class lines and examine issues of disability rights, addiction, and infertility, which are all taboo topics in many communities. Harmful traditional gender roles are scrutinised, as is the oppression of women by their own older female relatives.

By building an emotional connection with these characters and events, Backstage, which is produced by Arascope and funded by the Norwegian Mission Society, will help viewers examine their own attitudes in a non-confrontational way. This empathy-building is vital for building stronger communities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), a region with the world’s largest gender gap and which spans many countries with poor human rights records.

Backstage is approaching production as the COVID-19 pandemic has recently put further pressure on the most vulnerable, with isolated reports emerging of attacks on minorities who were unjustly blamed for spreading the virus. With families in lockdown, reports of domestic violence surged, and as the resulting economic crisis tightened, Ethiopian domestic workers in Lebanon were left stranded outside the Ethiopian Embassy – abandoned, sometimes with nothing, by their employers. And refugees, disproportionately affected by job losses and cut off from healthcare, also face dire conditions.

The situation has led the UN to call for greater protection for minorities in the MENA.

“COVID-19 is not just a health issue; it can also be a virus that exacerbates xenophobia, hate, and exclusion,” said Fernand de Varennes, the UN’s envoy on minority issues. “The human rights of everyone, in particular of the most vulnerable and marginalised, must be protected.”

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