CAIRO, Egypt – A relative newcomer to Arab TV, the Turkish soap opera “Noor” has helped narrow the gender gap between men and women across the Middle East.
Women see the lead female character – the independent, aspiring fashion designer Noor — as a role model. Meantime, her husband on the show — the blue-eyed former model and athlete Mohannad — has become the region’s first pin-up boy.
The nightly soap opera has mainly female viewers glued to their TV sets not only because Mohannad is a cuter version of Justin Timberlake, but because he offers something many lack in their lives: romance, tenderness and a supportive partner to his independent wife. Mohannad has become the standard against which many Arab men are being judged, much to their chagrin.
Saudi society abounds with Mohannad jokes such as this one: A Saudi woman was touring Turkey with her husband and son when her husband went missing. As she described him to the police, her son shouted, “But that’s not what Daddy looks like.” “Be quiet,” she whispers, “They might just give me Mohannad.”
“Mohannad” and “Noor” are now the hottest babies’ names in Saudi – even though the religious establishment has condemned the show. A top Saudi cleric forbade viewers from watching the “malicious” soap operas that “corrupt and spread vice” and has also declared that any TV station airing them is against God. This has put Saudi-owned Middle East Broadcasting Company (MBC), which airs the show three times a day, at loggerheads with Saudi religious leaders.
Saudi clerics may have an uphill battle: The Turkish serial has so wooed Saudis with its scenic backdrops of the Bosporus, and green, clean vistas of Istanbul that Turkish tourism officials say it has caused Saudi tourism to the country to more than double.
The series has not only made Saudi women aware of the failings of their partners, but the advantages engendered by a more liberal, tolerant Islamic society such as Turkey.
For many women, the show has opened a whole new world and a lot of men aren’t happy about it. “Men feel threatened. It is the first time women have a role model for male beauty and passion and can compare him with their husbands,” said Abu Khalid. “It is the first time they found out their husbands are not nice, that they are not being treated the way they should be, and that there is an option outside.”
Reem, a young Saudi businesswoman who prefers to use her first name only, was introduced to the show by her nieces, ages seven and eight. Reem explained the show’s allure. “Romance is not here, living in a dry desert. Saudi women are missing something in their lives, in the treatment in the family, the wife with her husband and the husband with his wife. What I see from my female customers is that they are attracted by the love and romance and the way the man is treating the woman.”
No romance in the dry desert? She’s not familiar with the sheikh genre of romance novels. I actually recently gave in to curiosity about these and am reading Burning Love. For research purposes.
Speaking of Soap Operas, an American one, As the World Turns, has had an Iraqi character on it for a while now, Ameera, who is married to a gay, American man. If I could stand soap operas anymore, I’d watch. Muslimah Media Watch reports on it from time to time.
Back to the story at hand: here is the actor’s Facebook page so you can see what all the fuss is about:
And so you don’t have to wait, here are photos: