Turkish melodramas swaying Arab TV audiences
Turkish television melodramas have swept the Arab world with their racy episodes of drama, romance and controversy. In some cases, they have become an obsession for Arab audiences causing them sometimes to shun Arabic soap operas.
The Turkish TV shows, which are crammed with taboos subjects such as alcohol, premarital sex and abortion. These subjects aren’t typically featured in Arabic-language television shows.
“Arabic soaps no longer interest me, they are becoming too repetitive” said Marwa Al Kubanji, a Londoner from Iraq who is an avid fan of the Turkish shows. “They focus on violence and morals; almost teaching us what is right and wrong in life—they are too patronizing and dull.”
Instead, she said that Turkish programs run deep, centering on emotional dilemmas and conflicts of the heart. These are amplified with storylines that show Western norms clashing with the traditional backgrounds of the Muslim characters, she added.
“I was shocked that these things were being broadcast on Arabic television when I first started watching ‘Noor’ three years ago,” she said.
Noor, (originally titled Gumus in Turkish) was the first Turkish soap opera dubbed in Arabic. It told a rags-to-riches story of a woman who married into a wealthy family but was rejected by her husband, who had another love interest.
Noor attracted more than 85 million Arab viewers above the age of 15—nearly 50 million of them were women, according to a report on Turkish soap operas by the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet. Those 50 million are the equivalent to more than half of the adult Arab female viewers of any Arab TV drama in recent years.
The popularity of the Turkish shows among Arab viewers isn’t surprising, said Sengul Ozerkan, a professor of television and a cultural commentator in Istanbul. “Turkey always acts like an intermediary between the West and the Middle East,” she said in a Euromonitor report this week.
The Saudi cleric Sheikh Saleh al-Luhaidan, however, denounced
Noor. He said the program represented a “war” on Muslim virtues since it portrayed Muslim characters living in a largely secular Turkey.
Enas Mohammed, a scriptwriter based in London and a frequent viewer of Turkish dramas, said that although current Arabic soaps are relatively bland and repetitive in comparison to Turkey’s productions, the Arabs would catch up.
“We are beginning to see more daring story lines in Egyptian films, including those made for television. Some of them are focusing on fiery subjects with emotive angles,” Ms. Mohammed said.
She mentioned the film Al-Shawq, an Egyptian film that follows the trials of a woman who turned to begging on the streets of Egypt to be able to provide for her two daughters and an ill husband. It won the Golden Pyramid at the 34th Cairo International Film Festival in December 2010.
But it’s Turkey that still churns out the most melodramatic of the dramas, with programs such as Ask-i Memnu, Izel, Yaprak Dokumu, Kurtlar Vadisi, Asmali Konak and Ihlamurlar Altinda. These are currently showing on Arab television channels.
Last year, a total of 22 countries imported Turkish television series. The Hurriyet study found that since Turkey started to export its shows in 2006, sales have exceeded $3 million annually with the Arab world, Greece and Brazil being the top markets.