Turkish soap operas and dramas are being banned in Saudi Arabia to stop the spread of Turkish soft power.
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Forbidden Love is a hugely popular Turkish television soap opera, and forbidden is about right because now the Arab world's largest private broadcaster has stopped showing Turkish television programmes and most importantly the hugely popular Turkish soaps. A spokesman for the Dubai based MBC Group simply said there is a decision to remove all Turkish drama off several TV outlets in the region as tensions rise between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Some see this as a move to limit Turkey's soft power in the region. Dan Damon spoke to Alex Scott, a Turkish writer and author of Turkish Awakening, a personal discovery of modern Turkey. She began by telling him about the appeal of Forbidden Love.
That was just huge. And in fact some episodes were watched even more outside Turkey than they were within Turkey. So it's important to remember just how much regional appeal these soap operas have. In fact Saudi has acted before. A Saudi cleric spoke out about how immoral these shows were, especially when people were watching them during Ramadan, after estar, after the fast breaking meal in the evenings. So there is a sense that these shows are almost too popular in a cultural sense, not just in the political sense, which obviously this latest decision is connected to.
I mean some soap operas, I don't know about these ones, can be crimes against good taste. But what are the tricolor soap operas accused of doing it to undermine society?
Well the charges are always quite vague for obvious reasons. The clerics don't want to get into the salacious details, but there's kissing on screen. There's forbidden love. And it's all designed to be sort of pleasantly titillating for the average viewer. The appeal, I think, is explained by the fact that Turkey is both relatable and slightly exotic, slightly more Westernized than the average Saudi Emirati audience in this case. So they can relate to what they see, but it's not quite alienating as say a Western soap.
So one of the knock on effects of the popularity of these Turkish soap operas in the Middle East is that it drives tourism in a huge way. I mean I've lived in Turkey for several years. and even I noticed this huge rise in Gulf tourists to Turkey. Because what they do is they see these amazing sets onscreen and they want to visit.
And not just in terms of its financial achievements, but in terms of its influence as well because I guess these soap operas are very good at creating good feelings about Turkey as a regional power.
Absolutely. They're hugely influential. And what's really interesting is to look at the countries where they're most popular because when you look it on the map, it's like this sort of digitalised renaissance of the Ottoman Empire. They're hugely popular in the Balkans. Central Asia, they're very popular. And the Middle East. And the key to thehuge mass appeal. There was a show called Nauv???, which the two central characters, the lovers, their names became very popular names in the Middle East off the back of that show. That's how much influence they have.