Saturday, September 27, 2008

The key to promote Arab liberalism, freedom, and equality

Robert F. Worth of the NY Times wrote this great this piece on how Arab television has shocked many in Arab and Muslim world.

Here are a few interesting parts from the article:

Two shows about Bedouin history were dropped because they apparently offended the sensitivities of tribal leaders in Saudi Arabia, and two Syrian shows were canceled after they treaded too close to criticizing members of the Syrian government.


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.

Perhaps more important, the male protagonist, called Muhannad in the Arabic version, treats his wife as an equal and supports her career as a fashion designer.


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.

You can read the entire article in the link I provided above.

I was shocked about how many Arab women watched "Noor". Even in Gaza, which is controlled by the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas, they watch "Noor" as is reported in another NY Times article, Watching 'Friends' in Gaza.

Could TV be the medium for the West to sway the minds and hearts of Arab world? Unfortunately, this 60 Minutes report about the US funded Arab language TV network "Al Hurra" shows the difficulty for America to appeal to the Arab world. The US governement spent $100 million a year since 2004 on this project and reached very little success with perhaps less than 1% of the viewers tuning in to Al Hurra.

So how can the West use TV as a medium to promote freedom and equality in the Middle East? By pressuring Arab governments to give independence to Arab TV networks to cover social and politcial issues. On June 8th of this year, Al Jazeera English reported on the Egyptian governmental crackdown on independent satelite TV networks and TV shows that are critical of the Egyptian governemnt. I have been watching the Al Jazeera English channel on Youtube for months and they rarely criticize Arab governments. If they are going to criticize any country, it is mostly about Israel.

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