Turkey's "Brad Pitt" stirs wide Arab interest

Tue Mar 10, 2009 10:12pm EDT
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By Daren Butler

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - With his blond hair, blue eyes and romantic gestures, Turkish actor Kivanc Tatlitug has captured the hearts of women across the Arab world, his fame creating a wave of regional interest in his homeland.

Dubbed "the Middle East's Brad Pitt" by Turkey's media, he has led the growing success of Turkish TV dramas across the region through his soap opera "Noor" and given a boost to his country's tourism industry in the process.

That success coincides with a rise in Turkey's profile in the Arab world since Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's outspoken condemnation at the Davos World Economic Forum of Israel's January offensive in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, which won him popular praise across the region.

Tatlitug attracts acclaim of a different kind on promotional visits to Arab countries.

"The reaction is unbelievable. I am faced with people screaming. There are people who cry with joy. Age is not important," said the 25-year-old, a former basketball player and male model who won the Best Model of the World contest in 2002.

The surge in the Arab world's interest in Turkish popular culture reflects cultural and religious similarities between the Arabs and their northern neighbor, a predominantly Muslim but secular country which is trying to join the European Union.

It also comes as Barack Obama plans to make Turkey the first Muslim country he visits as U.S. president to emphasize that "democracy and modernity and Islam can all coexist," his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said in Ankara last week.

Trade and business links between Turkey and the Arab world have flourished since Erdogan's AK Party, which has roots in political Islam, came to power in Ankara in 2002.   Continued...

<p>Turkish actor Kivanc Tatlitug poses during a interview in Istanbul February 4, 2009. REUTERS/Osman Orsal</p>