The mass uprisings of 2011 and their aftermath have sparked a burgeoning academic interest in the politics of Middle Eastern media that privileged news and social media. Yet as the contributions to Middle Eastern Drama: Politics, Aesthetics, Practices demonstrate, scripted television programs remain a key site of sociopolitical commentary. Over the past decade, TV dramas have attracted widespread audiences and critical attention, sparking lively debate that would be unlikely to occur otherwise. This role is ever more vital, as the authoritarian entrenchments following the protest movements have intensified constraints on journalistic and academic freedom in Egypt, Iran, Syria, and Turkey, countries with flourishing drama industries. New media technologies, and the practices that have emerged through them, have intensified rather than nullified television serials’ reach and relevance. The Internet offers a virtual, year-round simulation of the Ramadan broadcast season, as digital technologies enable binge-watching on global streaming services and video-sharing sites. On Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok, fan cultures respond to and shape drama content, sometimes from sites of diaspora. Dramas enjoy protean, interactive afterlives in memes, mash-ups, spoofs, critiques, and homages.
In this presentation, we realign scholarly interest with lived media realities in the Middle East. Drawing on a variety of disciplines—anthropology, communication, folklore, and law, we highlight case studies from the region’s leading drama industries. All attend to the complex nexus of relations linking censorship regimes, producers, production, broadcasting, and reception. The dramas analyzed encompass a range of generic forms, including docudrama, history, comedy, crime, and social realism. Thus, we reveal TV drama as a vehicle for creators, audiences, and academics alike to identify, reflect upon, and debate the most pressing issues facing their societies, including persistent authoritarianism, religious extremism, legal reform, gender relations, and socioeconomic inequality. We also discuss how Middle Eastern creators respond to and transform the formal innovations and thematic concerns of global drama.