By Rana Khaled
We’re all familiar with the stereotypes about addiction conveyed to us through Egyptian TV dramas over the years. A man or a woman who is fed up with the problems he/she encountered in their daily lives decides to escape his/her troubles through drug abuse, believing he/she would be able to quit whenever they want. Once they are dragged into the addiction zone, a series of suffering begins, causing a lot of misery and harm to them, their close friends and their families.
However, this Ramadan witnessed a completely new perspective for tackling the drug abuse and addiction problems in a TV series. In her masterpiece “Taht Al Saytara” (“Under Control”), starring Nelly Kareem, Dhafer Al-Abdeen and Hany Adel, script writer Mariam Naoum tackles the issue of addiction from completely different angles, presenting various characters that resemble every possible model of drug addiction. For the first time, we have a whole TV series dedicated to discussing drug abuse, addiction, the ways of recovery and the pains of withdrawal.
The series starts with the story of Mariam, a housewife who recovered from addiction after her ex-boyfriend’s death due to an overdose nine years ago. She returns to Egypt with her caring husband after years of living in Dubai, and he begins to discover some secrets about her past and her relationships with her old addict friends. Because he believes that she intentionally lied to him about her past, he decides to desert her, leaving her confused, frustrated and heart-broken. She starts contacting her old friends and getting back into drug abuse.
With her irresistible aura, Nelly Kareem grabbed the attention of her audiences in her portrayal of the main character, Mariam. With her facial expressions, body language and eye contact, she portrayed the weakness, challenge and hope the character experienced through the days of addiction, withdrawal and recovery.
Unlike previous TV series that sought to blame drug addicts for destroying their own lives or the lives of their families and friends, “Taht Al Saytara” introduces the principle that addiction is a chronic disease, portraying the drug addict as a patient who needs help and support all the time. It describes addiction as a test from Allah, not a choice.
The series also sheds light on the motivations of teenagers who try drugs because of curiosity and adventure seeking. It presents the love story of Ali, a young man who used to steal hash from his uncle’s safe, and Hania, a 16-year-old neglected girl whose father is always absent, but has daily fights with her mother. Hania started using drugs to imitate her boyfriend.
On the other hand, the series shows that recovery will never be the end of the story, because large numbers of addicts relapse after they recover. Actor Mohammed Wafek plays the role of Tarek, a recovering addict who started working as a therapist to help others recover. However, he could not withstand the temptation of the drugs and started taking them again. One of the undeniable reasons behind the success of the series is the soundtrack by Tamer Karawan, which accompanies the mixed feelings of excitement, anger, weakness and hope that every character experiences throughout the episodes.
What is really interesting about this series is that it digs deeper into the world of addiction, giving valuable information about the effects of every type of drug and how parents can figure out what kinds of drugs their children might be taking. Also, the series mainly focuses on the different rehabilitation programmes, paying special attention to the international “Narcotics Anonymous” programme that is known in Egypt as “Zamalet El-Modmeneen El-Magholeen”.
According to their website, Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is a non-profit fellowship or society of men and women for whom drugs became a major problem. They are recovering addicts who meet regularly to help each other stay clean. They are not a religious organisation. Their programme is based on a set of spiritual principles. Their message is very simple: an addict, any addict, can stop using drugs, lose the desire to use, and find a new way to live.
The first Narcotics Anonymous meeting in Egypt was held on 24 September 1989 in a school in Heliopolis. Over time, the number of attendees started to increase gradually, until in reached 26 groups in 10 governorates holding 90 meetings per week today. Some of the series’ scenes show Mariam reading Narcotics Anonymous’ blue book, which includes inspiring sentences about determination, patience, will and hope.
The series also shows the important role that support groups play in helping addicts overcome their sufferings and challenge their fears. The members of the groups sit in rows and the group leader chooses someone to share thoughts, experiences, pains, sufferings and fears with the rest of the members of the group. These groups resemble a crucial part of the therapy process as they help addicts express their feelings and share their thoughts with people who experience the same circumstances.
In brief, the series adopts a completely different angle of treatment for the repeated stories of drug addicts thanks to the leading script writer Mariam Naoum, who was able to turn the drug addicts from being seen as criminals to patients who need support and help from every member of the society.