Ramadan marks the annual blockbuster season for the Arab television industry. Each year, hundreds of hours of star-studded regional and local dramas, lifestyle and cultural shows premiere on the small screen.
And that list continues to grow as online platforms expand their content in the region.
This year, ADTV – the digital arm of Abu Dhabi Media's television channels – will exclusively stream an unprecedented five series including the anticipated Syrian drama Ala Safeeh Sakhin. Meanwhile, fans of the long running Bab Al Hara can only watch the drama on Starzplay.
For now, these growing incursions have not shadowed the appeal of traditional television formats. From Abu Dhabi TV and MBC to Sharjah TV and Sama Dubai, these networks continue to be the biggest home to some vibrant programming set from the huge metropolises of Cairo and Beirut to small Emirati villages from the 1960s.
With so many to pick from, spread across dozens of channels, here is a handy guide to some of the key programmes coming your way this year.
All shows listed below will be screened daily throughout Ramadan, though the broadcast times have not yet been revealed. It is recommended to visit the host channel's website for screening details.
Here are 28 of the the best dramas and entertainment programmes this Ramadan:
1. 'Covid-25' (MBC Shahid)
The Egyptian horror series imagines the worst-case scenario of the coronavirus, with the 15 episodes combing elements of action, suspense and horror.
In February, the show's scriptwriter Engy Alaa told Cairo Talk that the show was proving exhausting to write. "Everyone is suffering from Covid-19," she said. "And I'm suffering from Covid-25." Though she said the programme is fictitious and is not a prediction of how the virus would develop, it does have a scientific aspect to it.
2. 'Hijmah Murarda' (Emarat TV)
The anticipated action series stars Ahmed Ezz and Hend Sabri. The former plays Rifaat Al Masri, an undercover Egyptian intelligence officer who attempts to thwart the plans of foreign operatives intending to wreak havoc on Egypt's economy and society.
3. 'Ala Safeeh Sakhin' (ADTV)
The anticipated Syrian drama discusses the challenges of immigration and stars Salloum Haddad, Basem Yakhour and Amal Bou Shousha.
The show follows the Hajjar family who do not expect to return to Damascus after a failed bid to immigrate to Germany. Upon their return, they realise they can’t just pick up where they left off.
4. 'Al Ikhtiyar' (MBC Shahid)
After its acclaimed debut last Ramadan, Al Ikhtiyar returns with a new cast and another heart stopping race against time. This time around, Egyptian actor Ahmed Mekky plays a police officer involved with a terrorist group.
5. 'Al Tawoos' (Sharjah TV)
A provocative Egyptian thriller, Al Tawoos tackles sexual harassment in Egyptian society with star Jamal Soliman playing a lawyer involved in a case where the accused hails from a rich and powerful family. The series also looks at the societal harms caused by social media sites.
6. 'Kharief Al Oushaq' (OSN)
The Levant drama will surely be a talking point this Ramadan. Set between 1972 and 1992, Kharief Al Oushaq explores complex issues facing Syrian society through the eyes of couples of various religious backgrounds. We follow their quest to raise families in a Syria that is facing political and economic crises.
7. 'Did Al Kassar' (Dubai TV)
How long should you try before walking away? That's the core problem for Salma, played by Egypt's Nelly Karim, as she bears the recklessness and infidelities of her husband. The series see her evolve from a victim to a strong woman with a ruthless streak of her own.
8. 'Al Kandoush' (Sharjah TV)
This Syrian series was first announced in 2018. The drama was initially put on hold because of disagreements between the various production companies involved, however it has since come back on track.
With everyone back on the same page, viewers can revel in the stellar Syrian cast led by Ayman Zidan and Sulaf Fawakherji in a period drama that explores Damascene society in the early 20th century.
9. 'Harb Al Ahliya' (Dubai TV)
With a dynamite cast including Youssra and Bassel Khaiat, the Egyptian thriller is all about fraught family dynamics. Abandoned as a child, a savvy businesswoman (Jamila Awad) unexpectedly meets her mother and their subsequent relationship is nothing less than rocky.
10. 'Kul Ma Niftiriq' (ADTV)
A series that switches between past and present as viewers explore the torrid relationship between Nour Al Fayed and husband Hussam Makhlouf. The Egyptian series stars Reham Hajjaj, Ayten Amer, Amro Abdul Jaleel and Mohammad Al Sharnouby.
11. 'Mousa' (MBC Shahid)
The eagerly-awaited Mohamed Ramadan drama Mousa is reported to be 30 episodes long. The show is set in the mid-1950s and follows the journey of a man from Upper Egypt, who strives to care for his younger brothers after the death of their father.
The series stars Raya Wa Sekina actress Somaya El Khashab, Al A'ar actress Heba Magdy and screen favourite Riyad Al Kholi, among others.
12. 'Bab Al Hara' (Starzplay)
Exclusive to the platform, the latest season of the hugely popular Syrian drama is set in the 1930s and looks at the everyday life of families living in the old city neighbourhoods of Damascus during the period of French rule.
Premiere Gulf productions
13. 'Mamnou’ Al Tajawol' (MBC Shahid)
Saudi Arabian master satirist Nasser Al Qasabi returns in a timely series exploring how the kingdom's society has been affected by Covid-19. In addition to his trademark dry humour, Al Qasabi says the series aims to inspire and illustrate the resilience of the human spirit.
14. 'Bayt Al Thoul' (OSN)
This bittersweet Gulf drama features one of the last television appearances of Mishari Al Balam. The Kuwaiti actor died in February after contracting Covid-19.
At the time of his death, the show was still in production and Kuwaiti actor Abdullah Al Talihi confirmed scenes had to be rewritten to accommodate Al Balem’s absence.
"The screenwriter will have a major role in changing the scenario," he told TV channel ATV Kuwait. "In some scenes, Mishari's voice will be heard through phone calls instead of his appearance. This has to be done in a clever way so as not to affect the story, especially since Al Balam was the focus of the series' later events."
Bayt Al Thoul centres around two sisters, whose opposing values and personalities cause conflict and scandal within the family.
15. 'Al Rouh Wa Al Rayya' (OSN)
This is the latest release by Kuwaiti company Magic Lens, which is also behind Ramadan drama Bayt Buyt for Abu Dhabi TV.
Starring Heba El Dorry and Yacoub Abdallah, Al Rouh Wa Al Rayya provides a poignant look at a family tragedy. When matriarch Suad suddenly dies, her eldest daughter takes up responsibility by looking after her four siblings and a grieving father.
16. 'Matar Saif' (Sharjah TV)
In this Gulf drama, Kuwaiti star Saad Al Faraj plays the role of a patriarch of a financially struggling Kuwaiti family. Tackling different family dynamics, including those between parents and children as well as siblings, Matar Saif has the right amount of melodrama and heart to make this perfect Ramadan drama viewing.
17. 'Al Namoos' (OSN)
Similar to 2020's well-received Ramadan drama Mohamed Ali Road, Kuwaiti screenwriter Moe Anwar conjures up another ambitious drama spanning pre and post-oil boom Kuwait.
The ensemble murder unleashes drama, led by Mohammed Al Mansour and Haifaa Adel, and follows the free-wheeling life of Rashid Al Mather and his torrent of pent-up secrets and painful memories.
18. 'Wa Anna Ahebak Ba'ad' (Sama Dubai)
The Kuwaiti comedy shows that it's not always "happily ever after" once the wedding is over, in fact, some can argue that is when the troubles begin. From family squabbles to getting to really know your true life partner, Wa Anna Ahebak Ba'ad, translated to "I love you too", is a quirky look into relationships in the Gulf.
19. 'Shaabiat Al Cartoon' (Sama Dubai)
Dubbed the UAE's version of The Simpsons, the popular animated series returns for its 15th season with its blend of humour and cutting social commentary.
Shaabiat, a word that means "rural neighbourhood" in Arabic, follows the lives of a group of families and individuals living in a small Dubai neighbourhood. Each episode focuses on different people and their quirky troubles.
20. 'Hamed Hilou' (Sama Dubai)
After last year's hit Kashe' Nashe, Emirati comedy duo Abdullah Zeid and Gomaa Ali return for another zany sitcom set in an Emirati village of the 1960s. While the humour is sweet natured, the series illustrates the pioneering spirit of previous generations that powered the UAE's development.
21. 'Ally Nahbulhum' (Emarat TV)
Ally Nahbulhum is the latest addition to the growing body of Emirati sitcoms based in local villages. Funnyman Jumma Ali joins a cast including Ahmed Al Jasmi in a series exploring the quirks of living in a tight-knit Emirati community.
22. 'Aladdin' (Abu Dhabi TV)
Comedian Abdul Naser Darwish leads a strong cast, including fellow Emirati Sultan Al Faraj, as the titular character – a man in his fifties raising two daughters in Dubai’s City Walk.
Culture and lifestyle
23. 'Yalla Neta'asha' (OSN)
Fresh from the success of its debut season in 2020, the Arabic version of popular British reality food show Come Dine with Me returns with another serving of delectable dishes and colourful banter.
24. 'Al Shara' (Emarat TV)
Presented by Hessa Al Falasi, the cultural game show questions members of the public and celebrities on Emirati traditions, poetry, influential figures and customs.
25. 'Shoudo Al Huroof' (Sharjah TV)
Flick through the pages of the UAE's cultural history as Sharjah Institute for Heritage director Abdulaziz Al Musallam dissects the works of some of the country's most esteemed poets, to look at how their works have made visionary comments about local society today.
26. 'Al Mandoos' (Sama Dubai)
A mix of talk show and competition, Al Mandoos has viewers calling in to share their reflections on the UAE and Ramadan while quizzed about the country's heritage for prizes.
27. 'Ramadan, Dhalik Al Zaman' (Wousta TV from Al Dhaid)
The title means "Ramadan, that time" and this programme asks seasoned Sharjah residents to reflect back on what life during the holy month was like back in the 1970s and 1980s.
28. 'Duroob' (Emarat TV)
From Indonesian villages to the urban sprawl of the Uzbekistan capital Tashkent, for years, Emirati traveller Ali Al Salloum has taken Ramadan viewers on journeys seeking out new cultures to show our common humanity.
While this year’s offering won’t be too different than previous seasons, it will be interesting to see how the new countries shown have coped with the pandemic.