But Islam has yet to be a central theme of the show. In four episodes, the customs of the religion are only seen twice, once when Bassam (Adam Rayner) is looking to find his friend Fauzi (Fares Fares) in a mosque and again depicting a prayer before an unemployed man self-immolates because he can’t make an income to support his family (sound familiar?). Islam is not enemy. Nor should it be, because for the regimes the al-Fayeed represent, religion is used as a tool for those regimes to maintain power.
Instead, what you find is a condemnation of the atrocities committed by the regimes over the last 70 years. Entertainment Weekly’s Melissa Maerz writes:
“… setting the show in Abbudin, a distant desert land that seems to borrow its real-life events from Egypt, Syria, and Libya. When you give your country a fake Middle Eastern name, you risk turning it into a stand-in for all Middle Eastern countries.”
That’s exactly the point. Abbudin is not a real Middle Eastern dictatorship. It’s every Middle Eastern dictatorship. The story references brutal crackdowns, torture, executions, mass killings like the kinds under the dynastic Asad regime in Syria, use of chemical weapons against their own people, similar to the gassing of Kurds under Saddam Hussein, the fraud and misuse of national funds, even the targeting and rape of female citizens as Uday and Qusay Hussein were said to do. Mass arrests, martial law, and brutal repression are a daily way of life for many in these countries.
There’s also a rebuke of the United States for allowing it to happen. This policy is personified by the character John Tucker (Justin Kirk), the US ambassador to Abbudin, who regularly sits in on Presidential council meetings, giving the rubber-stamp “OK” to the President to do what he needs to maintain stability, a real policy of the US toward many autocratic nations.
The brutality, inequality, and opulence deserves more than critical judgment for its onscreen violence. These horrifying depictions are a real infection of the Arab world. “Tyrant” depicts these things in full intensity because toning it down would dilute the message: These are real people who are struggling to live under a brutal regime. The victims on this show are representative of millions of oppressed people living in the Middle East right now.
American society often subsumes values portrayed in popular television (the Cosby Show, All In The Family, Will and Grace) and film (The Jazz Singer, Good Night and Good Luck, Supersize Me). Americans learn about international events through late-night comedy shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The United States government is co-opted by regimes like the fictional al-Fayeed to further its own interests at the expense of the millions of subjugated people. If media is the means by which we now learn and grow, then a television program showing an honest representation of whom we support might be able to make American viewers rethink US support for these countries, the lives of Arabs living under brutal dictatorships, and the extreme measures they take to liberate themselves.
Image credit: hulu.com