Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Exporting culture to the Arab world

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It is a long-held belief that Turks hate Arabs and vice-versa. The Turks say that the Arabs are lazy, backward, and dishonest, and the Arabs say that the Turks are overbearing, imperious, and West-obsessed. Indeed, surveying the history of Arab-Turkish relations from the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, it isn’t too hard to understand where the enmity comes from and why things haven’t been more amicable.

But recently, commercially-driven Turkish enterprises have managed to start bridging the lengthy linguistic and cultural gap that has split even the most apolitical of Turks and Arabs.

These enterprises are known as pembe diziler. Soap operas.

From a 2008 article in the New York Times:

Perhaps the best example is “Noor,” the popular Turkish series that ran over the summer. The show violated Arab cultural taboos in a number of ways: besides having Muslim characters who drank wine with dinner and had premarital sex, one of the male protagonist’s cousins had an abortion.

But the show appears to have been the single most popular television drama ever shown in the Arab world. The finale, broadcast on Aug. 30, drew 85 million viewers, according to surveys by the Middle East Broadcasting Corporation, the network that showed it. Of those, more than 51 million were women over 15, more than half the total number of adult women in the entire Arab world.

The steamy, romantic, melodramatic show was dubbed into Syrian-Arabic and embraced by the Middle East (but not so much by the Turks, who appear to prefer even racier soaps). Even Arab men—more than 33 million of them—decided to get in touch with their softer side for the finale of “Noor.”

According to these numbers, Turkey is exporting culture on a massive scale, and for believers in “soft power,” Turkey is a force to be reckoned with in the Arab world. And for the non-believers, there is a very rude Awakening happening at this very moment.


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