There's no doubt that the current political unrest across the Arab region is having an adverse effect on Ramadan 2011's television schedules. Gone are the days of massive bidding wars for the hottest TV drama of the year, due to the lack of variety, as well as lack of cash. For instance, Egyptian demonstrations led to the cancellation of various productions, and major satellite channels have seen a huge slump in advertising thanks to the unstable economy.
Additionally, there's the matter of networks refusing to commission certain TV shows due to its stars. Ghada Abdul Raziq's forthcoming drama, Samara, has only been picked up by one non-Egyptian channel because she has been blacklisted after supporting former president Hosni Mubarak's government. Understandably, executives don't want to risk viewers boycotting their network.
As a result, even a couple of weeks ahead of the start of Ramadan, only a small number of shows were confirmed. Surprisingly, some of the holy month's usual stars are absent from schedules this year, including Egyptian actress Yusra and actor Khalid Saleh. But fear not, plenty of other famous faces are returning to our screens this year. Here's who to look out for.
With a number of box-office hits to his name, including Amir El Behar (Prince of the Sea), Saaeedy Fel Gamaa El Amerikeya (An Upper Egyptian at the AUC), and Andaleeb El Dokki (El Dokki's Nightingale), it is a surprise that Mohammad Heneidy took a break from making movies to shoot a Ramadan TV project.
But 2011 marks the return of the 45-year-old actor to the small screen as he appears in the comedy Ramadan Mabrook Abu El Alamein Hamouda, reprising his role from the 2009 film of the same name.
That's not all. The Egyptian actor will also star in the radio show Alaan Fe Masr (Worried in Cairo) alongside Tunisian actress Hind Sabri. It is predicted that Heneidy's participation in this year's Ramadan TV race will establish him as a regular TV star for many Ramadan seasons to come.
Another star making a name for himself this Ramadan is Emirati legend Abdullah Balkhair, who will be appearing in his very own Fawazeer series on Nogoom TV. The concept of Fawazeer is hugely popular during the holy month, where these shows treat viewers to a daily riddle that they need to solve, and they can call in with their answer to be in with the chance of winning a variety of prizes.
Balkhair is considered one of the UAE's finest folk singers, so there's no doubt his Fawazeer series will be tremendously popular.
Despite the Syrian protests, Ramadan regular Jamal Sulaiman will return this year with a brand new drama, albeit relevant to current events in his home country. The Syrian actor — who first made a name for himself in the Ramadan series Hadayek El Shaytan (Garden of the Devil) — will play the role of a military officer in Al Shawara al Khalfiyah (The Backstreets).
The three-million-Egyptian-pound series will see Sulaiman's character, Shukri Abdul Motaal, dismissed from the army after refusing to fire on students during demonstrations. Later on in the series, he falls in love with his neighbour played by Laila Elwi.
The show will be televised on Dubai TV and Al Masriya.
Abdullah Al Sadhan and Nasser Al Qasabi
Dubbed the most important duo in Saudi Arabian showbiz, Abdullah Al Sadhan and Nasser Al Qasabi have pushed boundary after boundary with their long-running hit TV show, Tash Ma Tash.
Following 18 consecutive seasons, the actors return for yet another season this Ramadan, and expect the cheeky chappies to be as controversial as ever. Over the years, Al Sadhan and Al Qasabi have faced numerous challenges, obstacles and hurdles, with various lawsuits being filed against them and various threats for censors to pull the plug on their show.
But through support from fans in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Middle East, they have managed to pull through, and we're guessing they'll be back as strong as ever this year thanks to the Arab spring uprising.
Khaled Al Sawy
One actor to definitely look out for this year is Egyptian star Khaled Al Sawy, who has had a number of successful Ramadan productions to date, including last year's award-winning drama, Ahl Cairo (The People of Cairo). Prior to the ousting of Hosni Mubarak, the outspoken Al Sawy landed himself in hot water several times for attacking the government via his blog and through his poetry (he is also an award-winning poet).
During the demonstrations of January 25, Al Sawy was one of the first famous faces to appear in Tahrir Square, and remained at the Cairo landmark for the duration of the protests.
So then, it is no surprise that his latest drama is about recent events in Egypt. In Khatem Soliman (The Ring of King Solomon), Al Sawy addresses the social, political and economic issues that pushed citizens over the edge, calling for the overthrowing of Mubarak's regime.
OTHER STARS TO WATCH OUT FOR THIS SEASON
WHO Ashraf Abdel-Baqi Bani
WHERE Admin Fi Asr el-Tenin (Human Beings in the Era of the Dragon)
WHO Amr Saad
WHERE Sharea Abdel-Aziz (Abdel-Aziz Street)
WHO Hayat Al-Fahad
WHERE Al-Jeleeb(Lady of the House)
WHO Hussein Abdul Rida
WHERE Al-Serdab (The Basement)
WHO Su'ad Abdulla
WHERE Fersa Thanya (Second Chance)
WHO Huda Hussein
WHERE Al-Dakhela (The Outsider)