Cairo – The trial of former Egyptian president Hosny Mubarak has shifted attention from once-popular television shows in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan when viewing rates in the Arab world traditionally peaks.
On August 3, millions of people in Egypt and the Arab region eagerly followed the opening session of Mubarak’s trial that was broadcast live on state Egyptian television.
‘In the past, people used to skip television when Mubarak appeared on the screen making an address or attending a conference. Those were the worst times for viewers,’ said Tareq al-Shenawi, an Egyptian entertainment critic.
‘But for the first time, Mubarak succeeded in stealing the spotlight from all TV shows when he appeared for his trial inside an enclosed cage,’ he added.
Forced to step down in a popular revolt in February, Mubarak is facing charges of allegedly ordering the killing of peaceful protesters and abusing powers during his 30-year rule.
Mubarak looked alert at the trial when he made his first public appearance since his ouster. He lay on a gurney inside a cage of enmeshed iron bars.
Standing in the same cage were his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, ex-interior minister Habib al-Adli and six senior policemen.
The trial is to resume in the Police Academy on the outskirts of Cairo on Monday.
‘The public obsession with following Mubarak’s case will increase as the trial proceeds and develops,’ said al-Shenawi, who added that ordinary TV shows pale in comparison to the trial. ‘The deposed president’s trial is more powerful than any TV drama.’
Arab TV stations usually vie to show a lavish fare of soap operas starring big-name actors in the month of Ramadan when many people have the habit of staying awake past midnight.
For their part, advertisers capitalize on high TV viewing in Ramadan to promote products and services.
This year, more than 40 new soaps and dozens of talk shows have hit the airwaves since Ramadan began on August 1. But they seem not to have made a strong impression on the audience or attracted a handsome portion of adverts.
Local TV advertising agencies have reported heavy losses. Tareq Nour, an advertising mogul, told the Egyptian newspaper Al-Shorouq this week that revenues from advertising this Ramadan had dropped by 60 per cent compared to last year.
He attributed the drop to economic stagnation and political uncertainty in post-revolutionary Egypt.
‘I advise advertisers to have their commercials aired during intervals during Mubarak’s trial instead of in between TV shows,’ said al-Shenawi, the entertainment critic.
Media professor Abdullah Zalta emphasised the importance of the Mubarak show to Arab media itself: ‘The scene of Mubarak in the dock was the first of its kind in the history of the Arab media. … That a former president was shown live going on trial.’
‘It is a rare chance for official Egyptian television to regain its credibility,’ he added, calling the trial ‘riveting.’
Egyptian TV officials have promised that all sessions of Mubarak’s trial will be broadcast live.