Published on Voices

Arab reality show tests humanity and empathy

It’s Ramadan and the Arabic TV channels are festooned with shows that vary from recurring popular soap operas, cooking and competition shows — but one has become the talk of the town.

Al Sadma, or The Shock, the Arabic version of the popular American show What Would You Do, is a reality TV prank show. But it’s not like many other tasteless reality shows that invoke fright and even terror, it is a show that invokes morality and examines humanity.

The prank show uses hidden cameras to capture the reactions of the public to staged scenarios that are intentionally disturbing. The scenarios are filmed in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. It airs around Iftar time in the region, when Muslims break their sunrise-to-sunset fasting.

Some of the show’s scenarios include a man humiliating his wife at a restaurant, a woman scolding her child while helping with his homework, a lost girl trying to find her mother while a man tries to kidnap her, a man following and harassing a woman at the mall, a child laborer being yelled at and beaten by his employer, and many more staged situations.

The show tests what is known in psychology as the “Bystander Effect,” an unfortunate aspect of human nature that occurs when the presence of others hinders an individual from intervening in an emergency situation. In The Shock, some bystanders ignore the situation, others appear shocked, and some even laugh.

But some do try to help or intervene. This is what the show is trying to convey: Reversing the bystander effect can actually work to help victims when surrounded by people. In fact, research suggests that the bystander effect can be overcome.

But what does this mean for development?

Reversing the bystander effect can help lift people, even entire societies, out of poverty. Interventions can promote positive outcomes: Defending a woman harassed by strangers or a wife humiliated by her husband raises awareness about gender equality and women’s empowerment. Stopping a predator from luring a child who lost her parents prevents sex trafficking. Speaking up against sectarianism can help spread peace. Stepping up to stop a child from smoking helps prevent diseases that can cost economies heavy consequences.

We cannot just depend on governments, politicians, or organizations to help us or help the others. We also can do something to help to prevent many of the problems surrounding us. As human beings and members of different communities, we have a shared responsibility to help.

So, the next time you see someone you don’t know in need of help, will you be willing? What would you do? 


Bassam Sebti

Arabic-Language Digital Specialist, IFC

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000