Turkish soap opera flop takes Arab world by storm

Sat Jul 26, 2008 8:30am EDT
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By Farah al-Sweel

RIYADH (Reuters) - A Turkish soap opera that flopped when first broadcast in its native Turkey three years ago has taken the Arab world by storm, provoking a flood of Gulf Arab tourists to Turkey that even includes royalty.

"Noor" became an immediate hit when Saudi-owned MBC satellite television began airing it earlier this year, partly because of its unconventional usage of colloquial Arabic dubbing -- and because its blond-haired, blue-eyed leading man had women swooning.

Turkey is expecting the number of Saudi tourists this year to top 100,000, including King Abdullah's wife Hissa al-Shaalan, who has been the subject of YouTube videos showing her swanning through the markets and sweet-shops of Istanbul.

"From 41,000 (tourists) last year to 100,000 this year -- the same year this show became phenomenally successful," said Turkish diplomat Yasin Temizkayn. "It's more than just a coincidence."

Spanish-language soap operas have been shown on Arab television in the lucrative Saudi and Gulf markets in recent years with classical Arabic voice-overs.

But with "Noor" -- the main character whose name means "light" -- the names of the characters in the original Turkish soap "Gumus" have been swapped for Arabic, and Syrian vernacular has replaced the formal classical Arabic of modern media and religion.

"I don't like all that Maria Mercedes nonsense," says Dania Nugali, 16, referring to a popular Mexican soap. "I feel like I am in Arabic literature class when I watch Mexican shows. But when I watch Noor, I definitely feel that it is entertainment."

Yet the main pull has been the co-star Muhannad, 24-year-old Turkish actor and model Kivanc Tatlitu.   Continued...