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                             Arab countries
                             Françoise Davies, Assistant, Communications Service, EBU

2004/15 – DIFFUSION online                                                              1

                                         Al-Raïs has fallen silent.

Françoise Davies
Assistant, Communications Service, EBU

2                                                             DIFFUSION online – 2004/15

Al-Raïs, the Arabic version of Big       sensibilities and to ensure as wide an    picking up the phone: a first in the
Brother, adapted and broadcast by the    audience as possible. Men and women       history of Big Brother.
TV satellite channel MBC based in        had segregated sleeping quarters and
Dubai, week, a little bit   prayer rooms but could meet in “open      An MBC spokesman confirmed that
shorter than what had been envisaged     areas”, that is to say the dining room,   the show was being withdrawn,
by Endemol’s producers.                  the garden, the kitchen and the living    explaining that, “We will never be the
                                         room. The candidates could speak on       cause of inter-Arab discord” and that
Launched on 21 February 2004, Al-        any subject, except sex, religion and     MBCs’ channels “respected the family
Raïs should have followed in the         politics.                                 values of Arab Muslims”. Noble
footsteps of other reality-TV shows,                                               reasons but it did not stop the channel
such as Lebanese LBC’s Star Academy,     But Anuska Ban had not calculated on      losing $6.2 million dollars (€5
which have been an undeniable            the outrage that it would provoke         million).
success in the region.                   from Islamists and conservatives who
                                         found the idea intolerable that single    Reactions
The Middle East Broadcasting             men and women could live together
Company (MBC) had wanted to make         under one roof.                           The intolerant views were not
the show available throughout the                                                  unanimous. Local columnists and
Middle East, Lebanon, Syria and          Imams and Islamist MPs led a              businessman defended the show and
Saudi Arabia with the aim of reaching    demonstration that took place in the      accused the rebel MPs of hurting the
a potential audience of 12 million       streets of Al Manama, the capital of      local economy. The show would have
Arabic-speaking viewers through free-    Bahrain, on 28 February. Hundreds         generated more than $15 million into
to-air satellite TV.                     of men, most of whom were bearded,        Bahrain’s economy and 200 locals had
                                         and several dozen veiled women            been hired by the network in Bahrain.
The programme followed the highly        demanded that Al-Raïs be taken off
successful international format used     the air, complaining that the pro-        Leading Islamic scholar and jurist
in the European and American shows:      gramme was un-Islamic. Demon-             Shaikh Al Asfoor criticized the
a house specially built for the          strators cited the “mingling of sexes”,   duplicity of those who opposed the
programme, located on Amwaj Island       the undermining of “traditional           programme yet watched it in private.
(Bahrain), six men and six women         Islamic values”, the “alien culture” of   Shaikh Al Asfoor dismissed the furore
competing against each other to walk     the show and the “corrupting              made about the mixing of sexes in the
away at the end of the 70 days with a    influence on the minds of young           show, saying that the phenomena was
cash prize of $100,000.                  Bahrainis”.                               not new to Bahrain: young people of
                                                                                   both sexes mixed in private schools,
Anuska Ban, Endemol’s executive          And the hardliners won. They              universities and even private houses.
producer, had made compromises so        succeeded in throwing out all 12          “What about the female Bahraini
as not to offend Arab and Muslim         candidates in one go without even         students studying abroad in total
                                                                                   freedom, the hotel discotheques, the
                                                                                   mixed wedding ceremonies and the
                                                                                   prostitution networks in private
                                                                                   homes?” he asked, and claimed that

                                                                                   programmes broadcast by local, Arab
                                                                                   and foreign satellite TV channels were
                                                                                   far worse than Big Brother.

                                                                                   Internet chat rooms were saturated
                                                                                   with Muslims satisfied with the
                                                                                   outcome. “There are still other Big
                                                                                   Brothers to ban,” said a Saudi and
                                                                                   demanded a ban on Arab channels
                                                                                   LBC, ART and MBC as long as they
                                                                                   continued to broadcast reality
                                                       Arab                        shows.

                                                   countries                       For others, the arrival of reality-TV
                                                                                   in Arab households – even if broadcast
                                                                                   under relatively tight control – gave

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viewers a chance to see another side     Harem                                    apology thus defusing what could
of Arab life. As an Egyptian viewer                                               have become a diplomatic incident...
lamented after the plug was pulled on    The success of LBC has encouraged
her favourite show: “Reality-TV could    other Arab channels to emulate           But this paled into insignificance
have succeeded where Arab leaders        reality-TV shows. ART, the Saudi         when, during the finale, Aïcha had a
have unanimously failed: to bring        Arabian bouquet of thematic              change of heart. She stormed out and
Arabs together and get citizens to       channels, launched Ala Hawa Sawa         locked herself in a bedroom,
know each other”.                        (Being Together) which followed 24       screaming: “Believe me, I do not want
                                         hours a day a ‘harem’ of young           to get married.” In the meantime, the
Yet as the debate raged, LBC’s Star      women from different Arab countries,     Egyptian fiancé sat all on his own in
Academy has shown that it possible       in search of a marriage proposal.        the “truth” room . . .
to successfully adapt a Western format
the suit the tastes of a pan-Arab        The programme unexpectedly caused
audience. Today, from Tangier to         waves: Aïcha, an Algerian candidate,     Sources:
Medina, everybody knows the names        got through to the semi-finales and
of the participants who are on the       was left with the difficult choice of        Tewfik Hakem, ‘Le succès de la télé-
front cover of youth-orientated          deciding which of three marriage             réalité dans les pays arabes provoque la
magazines.                               proposals (Egyptian, Syrian and              colère des islamistes’, Le Monde,
                                         Jordanian) to accept: she was advised        14–15 March 2004
These show also generate considerable    by her mother in Algeria not to accept
income for Arab channels. LBC            the demand in marriage of a Syrian           Lisa O’Carroll. ‘Arab Big Brother pulled
received nearly 70 million calls         suitor because “Syrians have a bad           amid protests’, Guardian, 1 March
(providing phone-in revenue) from 22     reputation, they beat their wives”.          2004
Arab countries.                          The angry Syrian family accepted an
                                                                                      Lisa O’Carroll and agencies, ‘Arab
                                                                                      reality show jilted by runaway bride’,
                                                                                      Guardian, 1 March 2004

                                                                                      Brian Whitaker, ‘Reality TV grips and
                                                                                      enrages Arab world’, Guardian,
                                                                                      2 March 2004

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