CAIRO: Prank shows have become a staple favorite on Arabic TV channels during Ramadan, pulling in huge audiences with their outlandish set-ups to catch out unsuspecting celebrities.
But in Egypt, one such program may have gone too far, sparking accusations that the host sexually harassed one of the guests.
“Ramez Sub Zero,” presented by Ramez Galal, has repeatedly come under fire for its controversial content. The complaints have come from both guests of the show and viewers.
The latest attack comes after Galal was accused of sexually harassing Egyptian actress Yasmine Sabri. The presenter repeatedly made physical contact with the actress as well as several inappropriate references to her physical appearance.
Sabri also reportedly sustained an injury to her knees during filming.
Harassmap, an Egyptian anti-harassment initiative, was quick to comment on the issue, stating in a post on its Facebook page that Galal repeatedly uses language that encourages sexual harassment, referencing comments made about Sabri’s figure, and that the use of such language, especially under the guise of comedy, only adds to the acceptance of this kind of behavior.
The post was widely shared and sparked a debate that reflected the public’s divided opinion, as well as the relevance of the issue of harassment in Egyptian society.
In this year’s show, celebrity guests are flown out to Russia for a World Cup event, only to find Galal disguised as Hector Cooper, coach to Egypt’s national football team. They are then thrown into a whole series of frightening situations, including a staged attack by a fake bear and a sledding accident.
Some viewers have called for the Supreme Council of Media Regulation and the Media Syndicate to take action against the show for violations such as verbal abuse, animal cruelty and sexual harassment. However, Seham Saleh, the Media Syndicate undersecretary, said they had concluded that there had been no violations and the show would not be suspended.
Saleh also said that no complaints had been made to the committee in charge of monitoring the show, and that the recent allegations were part of an attack on both the show and the TV channel in an effort to damage their popularity.
Galal is no stranger to criticism or controversy since the airing of his first Ramadan prank show in 2011. He came under fire after one show involved a caged lion inside an elevator, where unsuspecting celebrities were pranked by Galal, sparking an outcry from animal rights activists.
One viewer called for a boycott of the show, saying that the show had “gone too far,” and was “cruel to the people…and the animals they are using.”
The Society for the Protection of Animal Rights in Egypt condemned the show’s treatment of animals and expressed concern that seeing animals abused in the media could encourage viewers to do the same.
Mohamed Abdel Gelil, a Cairo-based TV producer, believes the show is far too repetitive, saying that “they rely on the same premise year after year, once a tiger, once a bear … the pranks are all very similar.”
Gelil also criticized Galal’s attempt at disguising himself as Cooper in this year’s show, saying: “The makeup was completely unconvincing. These celebrities know makeup, they can distinguish these things, down to the tone of voice sometimes. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Gelil went on to say: “The show has had the same team for years. If they want to make any improvement they will need more than a change of location; they will need a new story.”
In addition to allegations of harassment and abuse, the show has also been widely accused of being fake, with celebrities’ reactions being staged and scripted. Ahmed, a 25-year-old hospitality worker, finds the show not funny but rather over-the-top, saying that “it is widely known that they pay these celebrities a lot of money to appear on the show.”
Arab News approached various members of Galal’s production team who all refused to comment.
Despite all the criticism it has garnered, Galal’s show remains extremely popular and retains a loyal following.