The Uncompromising Voice of Syrian Screenwriter Fouad Hamira

By 
Rebecca Joubin

A Study in Courage: Screenwriter and Activist Fouad Hamira

Cinematic activist, Fouad Hamira, who began his career working for the National Theater, has become one of the leading voices for justice in Syrian television. Despite all attempts to silence him, this man of courage and conviction remains as vocal as ever. Since the current uprising in Syria, he has denounced injustices such as the government’s attempts to reframe the battle for Syrian freedom as a sectarian uprising. 

Fouad Hamira, who began as an employee in the National Theater, has gone on to become one of the leading voices in Syrian television drama. He is renowned for his unwillingness to compromise with the forces of societal and political oppression. His controversial “Ghazlan fi Ghabat al-Dhi‘ab” (Gazelles in a Forest of Wolves), which was filled with a poignant critique of corruption and the abusive nature of power, was finally allowed to air  in 2006, although he had written the miniseries 15 years earlier. The miniseries gained the approval of the Censorship Committee with the assumption that the corruption he described referred to Rifat al-Assad. Hamira’s “al-Husrom al-Shami” (Sour Shami Grapes, 2007, 2008, 2009), a three-part historical miniseries produced by Haitham Haqqi’s Reelfilms Production Company, transports viewers into another period in order to subtly denounce the current Baathist regime. Set between 1741 and 1762, the miniseries portrays the corruption of the ruling classes during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent as a thinly disguised critique of the present. This was not unknown to the Censorship Committee, which forbade Syrian channels to broadcast the miniseries during Ramadan.

The Censorship Committee also forbade Hamira’s “Mamarrat Dayyiqa” (Narrow Corridors, 2007), which portrayed female incarceration and the injustices that lead to her imprisonment, to air on Syrian channels. Yet Hamira’s creative scripts focus on  more than just political critique; they also revolutionize social norms. In “Mamarrat Dayyiqa” Hamira condemned husbands who left their wives and children for long periods of time to travel to the Gulf States in search of work. In this miniseries, Maysa, whose husband worked in the Gulf, becomes vulnerable and one day finds herself unaccompanied in the home of another man. When he tries to rape her, she stabs him in defense. As a result, the police incarcerate her and her husband soon divorces her when he returns to Syria. Hamira also attempts to manifest the unjustified pressure placed on women whose husbands are not present, and who then waver between marriage and the life of single women without support. Similarly, “‘An al-Khawf wa-l-‘Uzleh” (On Fear and Isolation, 2009), produced by Haitham Haqqi’s Reelfilms Production Company, denounces the hypocrisy of a society that judges and harshly punishes a woman who has had a relationship outside of marriage, while men mostly escape punishment for infidelity. In this story, when Bassima has a relationship with Ghassan, the reaction in her family is twofold: while her corrupt and deceptive brother, Akram, is very adamant about punishing her, her more egalitarian brother, Hossam, shows respect for women and believes their family should stand by her.

Since the uprising in Syria, Hamira’s courageous pen has no longer been directed to miniseries, but rather to lengthy postings on his Facebook pages denouncing the government’s attempt to turn the uprising into a sectarian conflict. As an Alawi writer – who during the harsh winter months of the uprising had no money to even purchase mazzote to heat his furnace – he has lived on the run and been incarcerated for his vocal critiques against the government. Despite his own deprivations, he has fought to unveil the fallacious nature of the regime’s narrative of a sectarian uprising. Guided only by his conscience and of a pure and wholly unselfish nature, he is a living testament to the humanity and invaluable intellectual capital present in Syria.      

This essay appeared in Al Jadid Vol. 18, no. 66.

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