Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat- After broadcasting the first ten episodes of the "Al Hoor Al Ain" (Beautiful Maidens) series, it is clear that the expected level of ratings for the series was overestimated. Those concerned with this issue expressed to Asharq Al-Awsat that the program has proven to be less interesting than they expected for a number of reasons. Undoubtedly, the drama series had understandably gained a lot of attention from the media, as many members of Saudi communities were curious to see how a drama series would tackle security incidents from religious, cultural and political perspectives. The drama is set in Al-Muhiya residential compound in Riyadh which fell victim to terrorism when it was bombed. The Saudi writer Abdullah Bin Bijad was a religious editor in this series and is one of the most prominent Saudi authors known for his sharp criticism of fundamental orientations.
Bin Bijad”s contribution to the series drove extremists to wage an attack against him on the pages of internet websites. Similarly, last year, the series "The Road to Kabul" also caused such controversy. The audacious presentation of religion, terrorism and politics had led to the abrupt end of its transmission as the production company stated that it had received threats from fundamentalist groups.
Saudi writer, Iman Al Qowaifely said, "I believe that this series was greatly mistreated as the media had highlighted the drama series. The great attention paid to the series was because it borrowed its storylines from news headlines. Yet this series is not unique in this sense as it had been preceded last year by "The Road to Kabul" and "Palestinian exile."
Al Qowaifely added, "The series was poor in its dramatic presentation. Just like the series "On the road to Kabul," it made use of the excitement that surrounded the drama. Last years series, ”On the road to Kabul” was the first drama series that tackled politics and religion however the new drama series, ”Al Hoor Al Ain” that attempts to deal with such issues has failed to capture the audience. In addition, it takes time to get into each episode and a number of episodes are associated with cases that are completely independent of the context of the series such as the well-known story of TV presenter Rania Al-Baz."
Al Qowaifely believes that the most important factor that hindered upon the success of this series was Abdullah Bin Bijad”s participation, which in turn led to the media attention that it gained. She said, "Bijad”s participation in this series was the main reason behind the media”s exaggeration, and I believe that Bin Bijad”s participation in any other program or series would have caused the same fuss."
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Abdullah Bin Bijad said, "Some people are easily provoked simply by stating that I have participated in any work of art. Some do not even want me to have an opinion or to participate in any work of art that tackles the issue of terrorism or demonstrates the ideologies of extremist Islamist groups. This is the main dilemma."
Critic Mohamed Al Othaim said, "It is very difficult to prejudge this series before it ends. However, I believe that the attack that was waged against this series before it had even started raised the audience expectations especially that many prominent actors took part in the series directed by the Syrian, Najdat Anzur."
He added, "The series had adopted a story-telling approach but did not courageously analyze the code of conduct of the Al-Sahwa movement (The ”Islamic Awakening” religious-political movement that appeared in Saudi Arabia during the mid-eighties). Al Hoor Al Ain had not failed due to the media commotion that had high expectations of the series but also because the script was poor as its writer had probably feared the same fate as "The Road to Kabul." The series” analysis was weak, lacked strong evidence and had disregarded the cultural aspect, consequently the audience lost interest in the series."
MBC, the channel that exclusively presents this series on non-subscription channels issued a statement saying, "Critics had made their judgments even before the broadcasting of the first episode of the series. This is clearly against what our religion, Islam, teaches. We are told not to pre-judge, as mentioned in the holy verse in the Quran, "O ye who believe! Avoid suspicion for suspicion in some cases is a sin."
Some members of the audience chose to reject the series to the extent that some of them resorted to contacting religious scholars to issue a religious ruling against using the title ”Al Hoor Al Ain”. Others had even urged preachers to appeal for the show to be taken off air.
”Al Hoor Al Ain” caused much controversy within the Saudi press. There is no other way to judge the series rationally except by watching all its episodes. The show”s director Najdat Anzur stated that the forthcoming episodes contain many surprises and highlighted this especially for the Saudi media.