The latest series of Ramez Galal’s prank show continues to stoke controversy in Egypt, with the country’s media syndicate calling for its removal from local TV screens.
However, pan-Arab broadcaster MBC has confirmed Ramez Majnun Rasmi will continue to air across its channels after receiving the all clear on Thursday, April 30, from Egypt's media statutory authority, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation.
The Egyptian Media Syndicate released a statement on Wednesday, April 29, calling for Galal to be banned from any media outlet in the country.
The body recommended the measure after finding Ramez Majnun Rasmi (which translates to "Ramez is officially crazy") contravened its charter relating to the morality of content, as well as questioning Galal's permissibility to work within Egypt.
The syndicate stated the show – which subjects its guests to a range of hair-raising experiences, from being strapped in a chair that turns into a 360-degree rollercoaster to being submerged in a tank full of crabs –infringed upon the dignity of its guests and viewers.
The organisation also said that Galal does not have a media licence to operate within the country.
The latter is a more contentious charge as Ramez Majnun Rasmi was shot and produced in Dubai for the network MBC, which is also based in the emirate.
The syndicate stated that since the show airs on one of MBC's five channels, MBC Egypt, which is dedicated to the Egyptian public and bears the country's name, Galal's conduct falls under their jurisdiction.
While the Egyptian Media Syndicate is in charge of authorising permits and licenses for journalists and programmes to operate within Egypt, the decision to ban or suspend any programme within the country can only be undertaken by the Supreme Council for Media Regulation.
In response to the media syndicate, the authority released an official ruling stating that since MBC Egypt, also known as MBC Masr, is a satellite channel operating out of the UAE, its content is not subject to the authority of the regulatory body, therefore allowing Ramez Majnun Rasmi to continue screening unabated in the country.
While respecting the opinion of the Egyptian Media Syndicate, MBC Group spokesperson Mazen Hayek reaffirmed the authority's ruling.
“The show airs from the UAE. The broadcasting happens from Dubai Media City via [regional satellite operator] Du Samacom,” he said. “So for us, MBC Masr is basically a satellite channel that follows the rules of where we broadcast from, which is the UAE.
Hayek also confirmed that the programme will remain on air and screen daily on MBC 1, MBC Masr, MBC 5 and MBC Iraq.
'If you don't like it, don't watch it'
Galal's latest series has been embroiled in controversy since its opening episode, which aired on Friday, April 24.
The first guest was actress Ghada Adel, who was reduced to tears by the end of her ordeal. In the show, Galal sprayed Adel’s hair and face with paint and her chair turns into a gyrating rollercoaster. Galal then submerges her in a tank full of crabs, throws snakes at her, and makes her sing "Ramez Galal is a YouTube star", threatening her as if she were his hostage.
This episode was followed up by appearances from fellow Egyptian actress Yasmine Sabri and Saudi Arabian actor Hassan Assiri.
While both appeared to be a little less shaken by their appearances, the show’s confronting nature was enough for Egypt’s Abbasiya Mental Health Hospital to issue an advisory urging parents to restrict children from viewing the programme due to its disturbing images.
According to reports in Egyptian media, it was this medical intervention that spurred the syndicate to take action.
MBC initially responded to the criticism on the entertainment news show ET Bil Arabi on Sunday, April 27, saying its internal polling indicated the show is the most-viewed programme this Ramadan, so far.
The network doubled down on its position when Hayek spoke to The National, citing huge viewing figures across the board.
"The first two days of Ramadan, we had 120 million views on social media. That’s Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat," he said. "If you add to them the TV ratings and viewer numbers on [MBC’s online streaming platform] Shahid, you get 200 million people watching Ramez in the first two days.
"So are you telling me that someone is in a position to tell 200 million people ‘don’t watch this, because I don’t like it?’ No. You don’t like, we respect you, so don’t watch it.”
Hayek added that it is the nature of prank shows to be confrontational and that each episode is subject to the approval of the participating guests.
'It was difficult': Assiri recounts experience on the show
This was a sentiment echoed by one of the show's guests, Assiri. The acclaimed Saudi actor appeared on MBC Trending on Wednesday, April 29 to recount his experience on Ramez Majnun Rasmi, the previous day and, surprisingly, went on to defend the host.
Assiri also quashed long-standing rumours that the show is staged, confirming his emotions on screen were real. "A lot of people don't trust prank shows,” he said. “A lot of my friends told me that I did a great job acting on the show and I was great. But I swear I didn't know what was going on.”
Looking back, Assiri said he should have realised something was amiss when producers insisted that he appear on the programme, which he was led to believe was a talk show, wearing casual clothes instead of his usual white kandoura.
Once strapped in the chair, Assiri said he focused his mind on hanging on for the ride. “I decided a few minutes in that I need to be patient and withstand what was happening to me,” Assiri said. “But, I got to tell you, the experience was difficult.”
Assiri said that his eventual decision to approve his appearance on the show – which came after three days – was largely down to the conduct of his inquisitor. The Galal you see on screen, he said, is different to the real personality off camera.
“Ramez is actually a kind, gentle and respectful person,” Assiri said. “What he is doing on the screen is a role. This is his job.”
It is a distinction that is not only important, Hayek said, but responsible for the show's enduring success over the past 10 series, with the last five screened on MBC.
“While the show is exaggerated, there have been no serious injuries throughout the history of the show, because if that were to happen then it would not only kill the show but Ramez’s career,” he said. “The reason why his show remains successful is that Ramez continues to walk that fine line. He may overdo a few things but he knows to never cross that line.”