Formerly TBS Journal

ISSN: 1687-7721

Turkish soap operas in the Arab world: social liberation or cultural alienation?

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From Gümüş to Noor: linguistic considerations


Translation is a mode of representing identity and triggers a linguistic, philosophical and commercial debate. Each language represents a different vision of the world characterized by its means and values. Several cultural studies scholars have taken this idea into consideration when studying media. Indeed they discussed the public’s reappropriation of mass media entertainment products. There are several ways to translate films or series: subtitling “a transposition from sound into writing” and dubbing “an audiovisual expression with one language seen, another heard”12. Both techniques involve synchronization: “the number of syllables as well as the duration of the spoken line is supposed to correspond with the original” (Rossholm 2006). Translation involves a combination of languages and media.


In Arab media, translations are mostly done through subtitling. As for dubbing, Robert Stam explains that accents and intonations are also essential as they convey cultural and linguistic differences13. When it comes to Arabic, the diglossia of the language is an essential characteristic to consider. It results in major differences between “literary” Arabic (a language that is not mastered by a part of the population) and colloquial Arabic or dialects, the language “of the street” and daily life. The expansion of media has led to different phases of linguistic hegemony. In the early 1990s, Arab musalsalat productions were dominated by dialects, essentially Egyptian. This position can be explained by Egypt’s long cinema history, dating to the beginning of the 20th century, as well as the abundance of Egyptian productions.


The emergence of Al Jazeera would, however, level the playing field, introducing a standardization of literary Arabic in order to help viewers who did not master it. This innovation would also have an impact in the field of entertainment. First, brief incursions of literary Arabic in local productions increased, although the field was traditionally dialectal (such as the Syrian hit series Bab al Hara). Then came MBC’s successful gamble: having Gümüş dubbed into Syrian dialect by Sama production studios in Damascus. This choice challenged the traditional literary Arabic dubbing of Mexican telenovelas that had created a disconnect between the audience, which found the language too complex and inadequate for the scenario, and the series over the years. Dania Nugali, a 16 year-old Saudi, told John Dagge from The Middle East magazine that when she watched telenovelas dubbed in classical Arabic she felt “like (she was) in an Arabic literature class (…) but when I watch Noor, I definitely feel that it is entertainment."14.Most fans who gathered in front of the MBC building when Noor‘s stars visited Dubai agreed with Dania. Therefore, MBC’s use of Syrian dialect was not an obstacle to Noor’s success, but was, on the contrary, one of its main assets, despite the important differences between Syrian dialect and other Arabic dialects.


With accessible language, Arab viewers discovered “the Other”, a neighboring country that history had estranged. Indeed Arab nationalism was essentially a reaction to Turkish cultural hegemony after the Young Turks’ revolution. By “winning hearts and minds”, Noor triggered a sudden reawakening and consideration of these Sanawat al Dayaa’ (“lost years”) as well as several other dilemmas.

The Ottoman Empire strikes back?


Turkish-dubbed series were undeniably an essential factor that led to a reevaluation of Turkish culture by Arab audiences. A feeling of proximity between both societies, Arab and Turkish, that was found neither in Mexican telenovelas nor in American hit series, flourished.


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1 Silver in Turkish


2 Light in Arabic


3 Sakr, Naomi. Arab Television Today. London: I.B. Tauris, 2007.
Satellite Realms: Transantional Television Globalization and the Middle East. London: I.B. Tauris, 2001.



4 Çemberimde Gül Oya, a 2004 Kanal D production


5 Ihlamurlar Altında, a 2005 Kanal D production


6 Khaleej Times (United Arab Emirates). «Noor’ lights up beacons of change.» 28 July 2008.


7 Beirut hosts The 2nd New Arab Woman Forum (NAWF). 11 September 2008.


8 According to its official website, the study gives a panorama of annual TV consumption in over 80 countries and territories worldwide


9 Dagge, John. "The Noor phenomenon." The Middle East, 2008.


10 Khaleej Times (United Arab Emirates). «Noor’ lights up beacons of change.» 28 July 2008.


11 Radsch, Courtney C. Arab TV series among top 10 global programs. 30 March 2009.


12 Rossholm, Anna Sofia. Reproducing languages, translating bodies : approaches to speech, translation and cultural identity. Stockholm: Häftad. Almqvist & Wiksell international, 2006.


13 Stam, Robert. Subversive Pleasures: Bakhtin, Cultural Criticism, and Film. John Hopkins University, 1989.


14 (Dagge 2008)



16 Al Ahrar (Egypt). «Fatayata so'oudiyat yataa'lamna al turkiya min ajl Muhannad.» 01 July 2008.


17 Al Manar (United Arab Emirates). «A'wdat al haymana al tukiya ba'd al Mixiq'iya.» 06 April 2008: 65.


18 Mansour, Mohamed. «Ba'da mawjat al musalsalat al Mexikiya wal Iraniya wa akhiran al Turkiya.» Al Quds Al Arabi, 17 April 2008: 13.


19 Arabic TV serials too costly, MBC Chairman warns. 21 May 2008.


20 Al Ghad (Jordan). «Al Nouri: Najah' al musalsalat al turkiya youmathel tah'adi lel drama al a'arabiya.» 17 June 2008.


21 Robert Clyde Allen, Annette Hill. The television studies reader . London: Routledge, 2004.Sakr, Naomi. Arab Television Today. London: I.B. Tauris, 2007.


22 Middle East has its own Brad Pitt. 11 Mars 2009.


23 Turkish soap star sparks divorces in Arab world. June 29, 2008.


24 Turkish soap opera upends traditional Arab gender roles. NBC News, July 31, 2008.


25 Al Rayah (Qatar). Salman al A'wda Yansah' al MBC bi tahzib al musalsal al Turki Noor. June 30, 2008.


26 (Dagge, 2008)


27 For more details about this event and its symbolic significance, please read : Hammond, Andrew. «Reading Lohaidan in Riyadh: Media and the struggle for judicial power in Saudi Arabia.» Arab Media and Society, Issue 7, Winter 2009


28 Sambidge, Andy. MBC expands soap opera shows despite Mufti fury. 21 October 2008. operas-despite-mufti-outrage.