While he is certainly not beyond reproach, Banna tends to be respected even among fierce critics of the Muslim Brotherhood. Meanwhile, "Al Gamaah"'s haphazard treatment of the period does truth no favors. In one particularly glaring misrepresentation, the show attributes to Banna the development of takfir, the controversial practice of excommunicating other Muslims. In fact, takfir, which is condemned by many mainstream Islamic scholars as a justification for violence, only emerged among Muslim Brotherhood fringe groups 20 years after the leader's death. Banna's surviving family members have filed a lawsuit against the government requesting that the program be pulled from TV networks. The suit claims that Banna's family was never consulted in the development and production of the series and that the negative portrayal has totally distorted the truth.
Despite the overwhelmingly cynical slant of "Al Gamaah," the show does, on occasion, pose provocative questions. In one scene, a shop owner and Muslim Brotherhood elder tells a deli server to place Danish cheeses back on display now that the controversy over the Prophet cartoons has died down, suggesting that the Brotherhood is more concerned with outward appearances than it would like to admit. Two useful critiques of the Brotherhood also emerge. The show points out the generational gap between the group's leadership and the majority of its young followers, who are often unable to get anything done within the party because of its rigid hierarchy. The show also highlights the Brotherhood's lack of a coherent political program, a vulnerability that sprouts up during every election cycle. When an anguished father confronts a son who has been arrested for joining the Brotherhood, he cries out, "What do they offer that the rest of us Muslims don't have?" In the episode, the son remains silent. In real life, a frequent criticism of the Brotherhood is that they lack specific policy proposals.
The government's hope, clearly, is that "Al Gamaah" will make young Egyptians think twice about joining the opposition. But the tactic may instead prove costly to the regime. Any public discussion of the Muslim Brotherhood may just lend it more visibility and credibility. Web searches for "Hasan al-Banna" spiked dramatically in the month of August, when the show began. Young Egyptians are reportedly flocking to buy Banna's writings, while independent newspapers are publishing fresh reports on the historic investigation into his assassination. There are even rumors now that the Muslim Brotherhood is in the planning stages of its own rival TV series. If and when that show airs, it will surely be as slanted an account as Wahid Hamid's "Al Gamaah," although the villains and heroes are likely to have swapped sides.
Somewhere in between the competing narratives, there's probably some truth to be found. But as "Al Gamaah"'s star character Agent Ashraf says, "There is a difference between opinion and truth. When I find the truth, I'll tell you my opinion."
*This sentence originally referred to Wahid Hamid as a director, not a writer. It has been corrected to fix that editorial error.