A Turkish soap opera, Noor, has become a hit in the Arab world, with reports of fights and even divorces occurring because of the obsession of many women with the handsome male star, Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ, who plays Muhannad. Some Bahraini bloggers have been examining the popularity of the drama series amongst Arabs.
Malath sets the scene:
الساعة الآن تشير إلى العاشرة 10:00 مساءً..” بل بدأت نور، ويش فيش تمشين علعدال؟ يالله بسرعة”
“إحنا لازم نرجع البيت أحين لا تفوتنا الحلقة” … يالله اشخطي السيارة …اشخطي..!
عبارة أسمعها كل ليلة تقريبا من أختي التي تستعجلني في الرجوع للمنزل قبيل العاشرة مساء لأجل أن تشهد كل حلقة من مسلسل نور. لدرجة أنني تخيلت نفسي محلقة بطائرة (هوليكبتر) و كأنما أأخذ بها جولة على البيوت البحرينية المقتلعة الأسقف كما بدت في حلم اليقظة ، لأجل أن أرصد كم المشاهدة البحرينية لمسلسل نور. مؤكد أن الجميع يحتشد أمام شاشات التلفزة مشاهدا نور بهوس و متابعا كل تفاصيلها إن كان الأب نفسه ، الأم و الأبناء و حتى الجدات يا جماعة” والله حتى الجدات!” متابعين بشغف مهند الذي يدللها بفيض من الرومانسية الشحيحة بعالمنا العربي.
It's almost 10pm.
“Why aren't you speeding? Come on! Hurry up!”
“We have to be back home or we will miss the soap opera.”
“Drive faster! Hurry up!”
These are the phrases I hear almost every night from my sister, who asks me to come back home before 10pm so that we can watch Noor. It has got to the point that I have imagined myself taking a helicopter ride and zooming into Bahraini homes, which I can see in my daydream without roofs, in order to monitor how many people watch it. I must stress that everyone is huddled around their television sets, watching Noor obsessively, watching every detail – from the father, to the mother and children, and even the grandmother. Can you believe it? Even grandmothers! They watch how Muhannad spoils her [Noor] with romance, which is missing from our Arab world.
Ali Al Mulla too is astonished at the popularity of Noor:
بكل صراحة، لا أتذكر أنني تابعت حلقة كاملة لمسلسل نور ولا سنوات الضياع، إلا أن ما شدني أكثر هو تواتر الأخبار الغريبة التي تتحفنا بها الصحافة العربية لمواقف يومية وإبداعات مجتمعاتنا العربية المتحضرة في الانحدار، وآخرها تلك الزوجة التي طلقها شريك حياتها لأنها أبدت (رغبتها العارمة في أن – تنام – مع مهند ولو ليلة في حياتها ولا بأس أن تموت بعدها) ولن يهمها ما سيكون نتيجة إعلانها عما يجول في داخلها من شعور!!
فهنيئا لها ..
Frankly speaking, I have never followed a complete episode of Noor or The Lost Years (another soap) but I have been lured by the strange news in the Arab Press, which comes out with stories about the level of degradation our society has stooped to. The last of these articles, is a story about a wife who was divorced, because she expressed to her husband her wish to ‘sleep’ with Muhannad, even for a night and that it would be fine for her to die afterwards. She didn't even care what the reaction to expressing this wish would be. I hope she is enjoying it.
Then Malath looks at the reasons for the drama's appeal:
ياجماعة.. ماذا فعلت بنا نور.. أنا نفسي إنتقدت المسلسل بداية و ظننت إنه سخيف و لا يستحق المشاهدة، و لكن بعد حلقة و إثنتين متتاليتين وجدت نفسي ممن يشاهدن مسلسل نور. و فعلا أسعى لشراء أو تحضير العشاء قبل العاشرة مساء حتى نستمتع بمشاهدة نور ريثما نتناول وجبة العشاء. بدأت أتسائل فعلا عن الحمى التي ألحقها بنا هذا المسلسل، هل هو هروب من الملل و الحياة الرتيبة؟ أم هو مخرج من سيناريوهات الدرامة العربية التي تحاكينا بلغة المخدرات و(الصياح و النياح و الكفوف و الطراقات و البكوس)؟ أم أن نور و مهند ثنائي جميل يجذب الناظرين و يجعل القلوب تهوي خيالا بهما؟ أم لأن الطبيعة التركية و مناظرها الخلابة، طريقة التصوير، التقنيات المستعملة فيه و الألوان التي تريح الأعين هي أحد الأسباب التي تفسر هذا الولع بالمسلسل؟ و لا ننسى سحر عيناه و شهامته التي لاجدال فيها، ربما تكون هي الأخرى أسباب مهمة، قد يكون مهند جميل حقا لكنه برأيي لا يمتلك معايير الوسامة و الرجولة والجاذبية العربية بمجتمعنا الشرقي و التي تنص على أن الرجل العربي لا يمك أن يك وسيما إن كان ناصع البياض ذو وجه “حليبي” إن صح التعبير، شديد النعومة و الصفاء، و لكن من سألتهن عن سبب إعجابهن بمهند قلن لي: نحن نفتقر للشعر الأشقر و العيون الزرقاء بعالمنا، فهو على الأغلب ما يولد لدى نساؤنا الهوس بمهند التركي! حتى إنني سمعت بأذني إقرار من رجال أن مهند وسيم، آه ه ه تخيلوا!!
What has Noor done to us? I personally criticised the soap when it first started because it was silly and not worth watching. But after watching it for an episode or two, I found myself following it. And I really strive to finish my shopping and prepare dinner before 10pm so that we can enjoy watching Noor while having our dinner. I started questioning our fascination with this soap opera. Is it an escape from boredom and our routine? Or is it an exit from the Arab dramas, which talk to us about drugs, in episodes full of crying, screaming, caves, alleys and fighting? Or is it because Noor and Muhannad are an attractive couple, who are nice to watch and allow our imaginations to take us away? Or is it because of the beauty of Turkey's nature, the way the soap is filmed, and the setting of this production that we enjoy? We also can't forget the allure in his eyes, and his character, which no two can argue over. Perhaps the other reasons could be important and Muhannad could be handsome, but I believe that he doesn't have the characteristics or attractions of an Arab man, which dictate that a man cannot be handsome if he is fair, with soft clear skin. However, those I have asked about their fascination with Muhannad have told me that they miss having blonde men with blue eyes in our part of the world! This is perhaps why our women are hysterical over Muhannad the Turk! I have even heard men admit that he is handsome!! Can you imagine that?
But her own interest in it is waning:
يا جماعة والله أشعر بأن الموضوع قد أعطي أكبر بكبير من حجمه، و بدأت أتململ من السالفة، أحنا مساكين نعيش حالة من التشرذم و الضياع، متخبطين بحياتنا ،ينهشنا غلاء الأسعار و السياسات العربية و المحلية المتفذلكة، و أحوالنا العربية الباعثة على الشفقة فنهرب كلنا نحو نور ،و كأنها درب الخلاص الذي سينتشلنا من عرصة الهم الذي يفيق و إيانا كل صباح.. نتعلق بنور و بمهند ، بشجاراتهم و بحبهم ، بلبسهم، بقصات شعرهم، بطبيعتهم، بتفاصيلهم الغبية على مدى ساعة من الزمن كل ليلة ، كل ليلة هروبا من همومنا و مشاكلنا التي لا تنفك تتضخم و تتفتح عنها أبوابا كبيرة.
I feel that this topic has been given more space than it deserves. I have become bored of it. We are poor people, who suffer from a loss; our lives are messed up; we suffer from inflation and expensive goods, local and Arab policies, and our conditions as Arabs are pathetic. This is why we escape towards Noor, as it it was the path towards our salvation, which will remove us from our miseries, which wake up with us every morning. We hang on to Muhannad and Noor, their fights and their love, their clothes, their haircuts, their natural surroundings, and the stupid details of their lives for an entire hour every night. Every night we escape our huge problems – which are getting bigger by the day.
At the end of her post Malath asks:
و ماذا بعد نور…………… يا عرب؟
And what after Noor … Oh Arabs?
Having just come back to Dubai from my two week vacation in Amman, Jordan where my parents live, I can attest that the soap opera Noor is a hot ticket item that is religiously followed by many in the Arab world. It is even a topic of discussion in the print and coffee gatherings. Some countries, Jordan included, have invited the star actors (Mohanad and Noor) for a visit. The bottom line is this: The Arabs have reached such a state of cultural deficit and emptiness that is disheartening. The attention to this story belies a bankrupt intellectual pursuit of Arabs whereas before they were the leaders in science and knowledge, now our intellectual pursuit is to whether Noor was correct in being angry with Mohanad because he hired his ex-wife. Wake up and arise ya Arab!?!?!?!
I have been to Turkey and it is a fascinating place. Very beautiful with great and splendid mosques, especially the Blue Mosque. Although my country is only 13% Moslem, (the rest Chinese and Indian) I find Islamic culture very interesting. It is a good thing, I think that the Islamic world is so diverse, such that a serial like Noor can be made in relatively liberal and Europeanised Turkey, and yet still have enough in common, that this soap opera can appeal so much to the Arab world. I hope that the world of Islam never loses this diversity and continues to develop and prosper. Humanity is so much richer for the art and culture of great Islamic empires like Arabia, Safavid Persia, Mughal India and the old Ottoman Empire.
With love and respect from Singapore
A quick response to Samer Al-Nimr: I think that’s an unfair criticism of Arab culture in general. The best comparison would be the United States. American public is fascinated with who Angelina Jolie adopts, who Britney Spears is dating, when the gals from Sex and the City will make their big screen debut, why Britney Spears cut off her hair, what book Oprah will recommend next, and more Britney news, etc, etc, and this happens ad nauseum. This isn’t a surprise. Welcome to Pop Culture!
Despite this, America is still at the forefront of science, technology and academia. The American academia is flourishing and produces more than most countries in the world combined!
The two subcultures (the highbrow and the lowbrow) can and must coexist. The scientist, the intellectual, coexist alongside the common man. There is room for both. Rather than criticizing the Bahraini layman for being fascinated with Muhannad and Noor, perhaps you should direct your criticism at the Arab academics, the Arab intellectuals, the Arab politicians, the Arab aristocrats for their complete and utter failure to guide culture. There ought to be more science, more discovery, more debates, but not at the cost of general entertainment and popular culture.
I personally think it’s great that Bahrainis are enjoying a Turkish drama. It’ll only go to improve the Arab culture in the future when some Arab cultures (like the Saudi Arabs, the Yemenis and the Syrians) are further exposed to liberal cultures (like the Turks, the Lebanese, and perhaps beyond?) and relax the stranglehold of the so-called “religious authorities”, the politicians, the so-called “intellectuals”, who have made too many things taboo for far too long.
Thanks for your comments Globalist. While I agree with most of your comments, my constructive criticism is to bloggers from the Arab world (whom I consider mainly to compse the intellectual target audience I want to address). Interestingly, there was a debate about the Noor soap opera on Al Jazeerah network yesterday.
A key question that arises: Who determines what is a taboo and what is acceptable to another society (mainly our Arab and Muslim society)? Drinking alcohol and having children out of wedlock (although it does exist) is NOT part of our POP Culture. We should not encourage it either to appear “enlightened” and “modern.”
Thanks for your comments as well. I understand now that you were criticizing the mere fact that this story had become so popular among the blogosphere (and, I assume, the Arab mainstream media). Since your criticism wasn’t directed at regular folk enjoying a harmless soap opera, I apologize for assuming that it was.
My take on your key question would be that of course society gets to choose its own taboos, but society must not unreasonably limit individual liberties when doing so. I’m not saying that Arabs need to accept alcohol consumption or extramarital sex, but how is society to control those who do want to take part in these activities? The simple answer is “It can’t and it shouldn’t”. (Of course, sources for alcohol can be limited by the government, but let’s assume that they exist.) If a free individual chooses to drink or have extramarital sex (with another free individual), then that’s their choice to do so.
This underlying principle of respect for individual freedom is what makes a society “enlightened” and “modern”, not the mere acts that fall under such a freedom. Taboos are lifted once people discuss, rationalize and criticize their own taboos. I’m not suggesting that bars and beer stores should start popping up next to mosques in the Arab/Muslim world. Of course, the sensitivities of the majority also need to be considered. But committees like “Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice” (or the shorter title: “Moral Police”) are unneeded and highly intrusive.
So, I agree with you. A society is not “enlightened” or “modern” just because it has alcohol and extramarital sex. But because it respects an individual’s freedom and the individual rights vis-a-vis the state. What the Arab/Muslim world needs isn’t Western culture, but rampant liberalism.
I think,main reason of airing these series is to introduce liberal and/or popular world that stands outside of Arabic region.
For a long time individualism and liberalism are just out of Arabic people’s door.Millions of people were (and still are) governed by dictators or so called princes and regime pushed them to accept a miserable way of life in poor conditions.
Although Turkey has not a mature democracy yet,there is far better conditions as liberal side and people commonly seized what free/liberal country can offer them.These liberal way produced it’s pop culture immediately.And now we see Arabs explore it.
Let’s hope these kind of things will cause to commence an enlightening in Arabic world and knock down taboos which tie people in mentaly.