Wednesday 12 April 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 12/4/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Mary Fitzgerald

Nightly nourishment

In the Arab world, Ramadan wouldn’t be the same without the lavish television series served up as a nightly digestif after iftar, the breaking of the daily fast. After sunset, families and friends come together for a postprandial viewing of the latest episode of their favourite musalsalat (Ramadan drama).

During the holy month, audience figures – and advertising revenues – soar across the Muslim-majority nations of the Middle East and north Africa, making it a key season for the Arab region’s film and TV industry. Offerings from Tunis and Cairo to Riyadh have long included frothy romances, slapstick comedies and lush historical epics. But some of the most popular in recent years have broached more sensitive terrain, including marital breakdown and social inequalities. Others have challenged taboos related to the role of women in society. Controversies are a given. Ramadan series often prompt the ire of governments or clerics; ambassadors have even been summoned.

This year two historical dramas were banned in Iraq – one because it focused on the schism between Sunni and Shia Muslims, and the other because it was accused of insulting the tribes of southern Iraq. In Tunisia, officials denounced as immoral a domestic series portraying the seedy side of student life. With many production companies and TV channels linked to the political dispensation in a particular Arab state, it’s not surprising that the drama can sometimes get geopolitical.

A glut of shows casting a critical eye on the Ottoman colonial era coincided with frostier relations between Turkey and several Arab capitals. So fierce is the competition for viewers that, some suspect, a whiff of scandal is all part of many producers’ marketing plans. That might be the case but it hasn’t dampened the appetite for the nightly fix of musalsalat.

Mary Fitzgerald is Monocle’s north Africa correspondent. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Shutterstock

Defence / Japan & South Korea

Waves of discontent

Despite hosting joint military exercises last week, diplomacy between Japan and South Korea has found itself in choppy waters. Yesterday’s publication of the Diplomatic Bluebook, an annual release from the Japanese Foreign Ministry, branded Seoul’s stationing of security personnel on a series of disputed islands in the East Sea (also known as the Sea of Japan) as “illegal occupation”. South Korea disagrees, with its foreign ministry insisting that the islets are Korean territory “historically, geographically and under international law”. Despite the terse words, many – not least shared allies with interests in the region, such as the US – will be hoping for a rapprochement when Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, meets South Korea’s president, Yoon Suk-yeol, on the sidelines of next month’s G7 talks in Hiroshima. While territorial squabbles matter and neither side wants to blink first, mutual security interests and a shared wariness of North Korea should prove that the squabbling neighbours have plenty to agree on.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / Yemen

Hope at last?

A Saudi Arabian delegation (pictured) visited Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, this week to begin talks about a potential ceasefire. It was a rare glimmer of hope during a conflict that has dragged on lethally since the Iran-backed Houthi rebel movement took control in 2015. The long conflict has led to more than 150,000 deaths across the country with about 80 per cent of the country’s population in need of humanitarian aid to survive.

A leaked photo from the talks shows leader Mohammed Ali al-Houthi meeting a Saudi official, sparking hopes of an agreement before Eid al-Fitr begins on 20 April. “Whatever may be negotiated will be far from an inclusive political settlement that would be needed to end the war,” journalist and Yemen expert Iona Craig tells The Monocle Minute. This said, pragmatism remains important. “The meeting in Sana’a is a clear indication that these two sides are interested in pursuing the political track over the military one,” adds Craig. “That is a positive sign.”

Image: Reuters

Aviation / China

Flying hire

As domestic and international travel rebounds, Chinese airlines are undertaking one of the sector’s biggest hiring sprees. About 11,000 cabin-crew jobs – about one in 10 – were cut during the past three years, meaning that airlines are now rushing to fill roles in order to get planes off the ground. Carriers such as Hainan Airlines and China Southern Airlines have reportedly received more than 20,000 applications each to fill 1,000 and 3,000 vacancies respectively.

The combination of a good salary and regular international travel makes a career in the skies an appealing one, even if cabin-crew roles in China require a university degree and the passing of a government-issued English test first. New recruits won’t be able to start immediately either. A year of training is required before flying. Despite delays, the industry will be hoping for a swift return to pre-pandemic levels.

Image: Alamy

Culture / USA

Open book

The Library of Congress has opened a door to its most opulent space. The Main Reading Room, located in the 126-year-old Thomas Jefferson Building, was reserved for researchers and academics but visitors can now enter the ground floor during two predetermined hours, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. It’s part of a broader initiative by Carla Hayden, the librarian of Congress, to make this venerated but opaque Washington institution – which, with more than 173 million items, is the world’s largest library – more accessible to the public.

Other initiatives include Thursday night “Live at the Library” events and, over the coming years, a new orientation centre that will be built just below the Main Reading Room and include a rotating “treasures gallery” of its most prized possessions. Libraries around the world are being renovated and reimagined as accessible community spaces; it’s about time the Library of Congress took a step in the same direction.

Image: Alamy

Monocle Radio / The Urbanist

The future of Milan

Monocle’s Ed Stocker explores his adopted home to find out what the future holds for the city. From new metro infrastructure to a sweep of new buildings and neighbourhoods – big-name architects, planners and developers have plenty planned for the Lombardy capital.

Monocle Films / Greece

Keeping the faith

In this digital age, do we need more forgiveness and sacrifice in our lives? And where can we look for direction? Monocle Films sits down with Archbishop Elpidophoros of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America to find out how the church strives to address contemporary needs and remain relevant.


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