Palestinian TV Show Satirizes Life, Leaders Country on a String is unusual in the Arab world — a comedy sketch show that takes aim at Palestinian leaders on the TV channel they control. The popular show debuted during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
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Palestinian TV Show Satirizes Life, Leaders

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Palestinian TV Show Satirizes Life, Leaders

Palestinian TV Show Satirizes Life, Leaders

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

A new satirical television show in the occupied West Bank is delighting Palestinian viewers. Nobody, not even Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, is safe from this program. It began airing recently during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan when evening programs reach huge audiences.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from the West Bank City of Ramallah.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Packed into a tiny editing booth, the cast and crew of "Watan ala Watar," or "Country on a String," watch as the piece is put together.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Watan ala Watar")

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The ten-minute comedy sketch is written and recorded on the same day it's broadcast. It's now about an hour from show time and the pressure's on.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Watan ala Watar")

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Today's sketch sees the trio that make up the comedy team playing President Obama, his press secretary and a hapless journalist. Earlier episodes have lampooned Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank. One memorable skit placed the characters 500 years in the future, showing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas still trying to negotiate a Middle East peace deal with Israel.

Actress Manal Awad says the troupe relishes taking aim at the high and mighty.

Ms. MANAL AWAD (Actor): We didn't imagine that it will be such a popular show. You know, every day the audience of it are increasing and more and more. And we're happy for that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says the secret of the show's success is its humor.

Ms. AWAD: Palestinians are really good at complaining, we're good at complaining. And now we turned it into criticizing and not only complaining. And we do it in a funny way.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The creative force behind the show is Imad Farajin, who writes, acts and sometimes directs the segments.

Mr. IMAD FARAJIN (Writer, Actor, Director): (Through translator) I get my inspiration from listening to my mother, to my father, to the taxi driver.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And the plight of Palestinians living under occupation. Farajin says the absurdity of Palestinian life is often a theme.

Mr. FARAJIN: (Through translator) We have created a certain kind of democracy. It shows our people they can speak out, but there is also a message to the region. We are telling Lebanon to speak out, Jordan to speak out, all the actors of the region should speak out.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yasser Abed Rabbo is the head of the government-run Palestine TV. He's a close advisor to Mahmoud Abbas and he was instrumental on getting the show on the air. He says it has been a hit with viewers because it's real.

Mr. YASSER ABED RABBO: The people are eager to see themselves, to criticize themselves and to criticize everything in their life, because the people want change.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that's what he says he's hoping to achieve. This show is only a first step.

Mr. RABBO: We blame the occupation for so many of our problems, and we are right in doing this. But there are also other problems that we should blame ourselves for.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: After a long day of fasting, the traditional iftar meal is being served in this Palestinian home. But at 7:35 promptly, many get up from the table and move to the TV room.

(Soundbite of music)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's time for "Country on a String" to begin. Children and parents crowd around the TV set. The scene opens with President Obama arriving in the Palestinian territories, having just gone through an Israeli checkpoint. On this night, Yasser Abed Rabbo is the guest star. He's playing himself, and he greets the president.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Country on a String")

Mr. RABBO: Welcome, Mr. President. Welcome…

Unidentified Man #2: (as President Obama) Thank you.

Mr. RABBO: …President Obama. (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #2: (as President Obama) Thank you. Mr. Abed Rabbo, we are waiting for 60 minutes. It's too much waiting, 60 minutes. It's too hot, at the border waiting, yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In the sketch, President Obama is portrayed as clueless about the reality of life in the occupied territories.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Country on a String")

Unidentified Man #2: (as President Obama) But Mr. Erekat didn't tell me about the checkpoints here in Palestine.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Saeb Erekat is the veteran Palestinian negotiator. Abed Rabbo responds saying there are many things Saeb Erekat doesn't tell us either. It gets a laugh from the group here.

Among them is Sami Batrawi. He says this is the first Palestinian-produced series that he's wanted to watch.

Mr. SAMI BATRAWI: It's a good show, and it touched a lot of political things.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But he says his enjoyment is bittersweet.

Mr. BATRAWI: It's a black humor, you know? Sometimes it hurts to laugh, because you are laughing at yourself.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Ramallah.

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