In Syria, soap operas, known as “musalsalaat,” are enormously popular and since the 1990s, when satellite-television access increased across the Arab world, have been watched regularly by tens of millions of people from Morocco to the Persian Gulf.
Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, is the high season for musalsalaat. After Iftar, the nightly fast-breaking feast, families and friends traditionally gather to watch these serial melodramas. The stories are typically told in 30-episode arcs to coincide with Ramadan, and the stories can be contemporary or historical and their increasingly racy storylines have explored such controversial subjects as adultery, domestic abuse and even terrorism.
Syria has been the region’s leading producer of television drama, but since the revolution began in 2011, many actors, producers, and writers who joined the resistance to the Assad regime were blacklisted, then threatened, and have fled the country. The civil war has divided the industry. Gulf channels which used to be the primary importers of Syrian drama, have retreated after their governments cut ties with Damascus. In recent years, many Syrian productions are resuming their work outside the country in Lebanon.