Turkish Drama on Arab Television: Reasons for the Continuing Success


Ouidyane Elouardaoui
PhD Student

  The two Turkish series that heralded the success of Turkish drama on Arab television are Ihlamurlar Altinda (Under the Linden Trees) [Kanal D, 2005] and Gumus (Silver) [Kanal D, 2005], being translated to Arabic as Sanawat Aldayaa (The Lost Years) and Nour, which were shown on MBC (Middle East Broadcasting Center) in 2008 and 2009.  Turkish TV drama has led to strong public commotion in the Arab world. These two series, in particular, have attracted an estimated 85 million viewers across the Arab world (Buccianti 2010:1). This remarkable success has raised questions about the rationales that attracted millions of viewers across the Arab world to the Turkish drama.

Several reasons can account for the enduring glamour of Turkish drama on Arab television. First, Turkish TV series have provided Arab audiences with visual elements that are difficult to find in national TV productions whether the Egyptian, Syrian or Saudi. These different features incorporate the series’ young and charismatic characters, clothing fashion, setting, storylines, and topics. Unlike almost all Egyptian TV series, the main characters in Turkish series are quite young and are physically very attractive. For instance, it is believed that the huge success of Gumus is partly due to the sexual appeal of the young former model male protagonist, famous by the name of Mohanad. The Arab audiences’ intense infatuation with the physical attractiveness of the young main Turkish characters is mainly the result of the general absence of young lead characters in Arab drama. For example, lead characters in almost all Egyptian soap operas are generally quite old and do not exemplify the classical screen standards of “beauty,” such as Salah Saadani, Yahya Elfakharini, Nour Sheriff, Yosra, Ilham Shaheen,  and Fifi Abdu.

In the same vein, the main characters in Aşk-i Memnu, Ask ve Ceza and Fatmagul’un Sucu Ne? are young, very attractive and extremely fashionable. In fact, in Aşk-i Memnu, Samar’s outfits, make-up and hairstyles played a significant role not only in furbishing the modern image of the series but also in attracting fashion-lovers across the Arab world. Aşk-i Memnu’s both main and secondary characters belong to the upper class due to the nature of the series’ story, thus, all the female characters, particularly Samar, have offered the Arab viewers a spectacular show of fashionable outfits that are seen as charmingly modern for female Arab viewers, though they might be still considered conservative if compared to western clothing style. As noticed by Spence in her study of the different types of pleasure derived by soap opera viewers, the way a large number of Arab viewers have interacted with the Turkish soap characters is not merely a question of characters being likeable but rather because they are exceptional in the sense that they are the focus of attention, are leading an extravagantly different lifestyle and are surrounded by consequential events (Spence 2005: 114).

More significantly, Turkish series have also engagingly dealt with topics that Arab drama writers and producers have either evaded or briefly touched on. Aşk-i Memnu’s acclaimed status, after it has gained both local and global popularity and has been translated to more than twelve languages, is primarily due to the existence of a religiously and socially forbidden love (as the title itself suggests) between a married woman and her husband’s nephew. As explained earlier, in an Arab-Muslim context where family relations and traditional moral values (respect for the elderly, individual sacrifice for the common good etc…) are highly cherished, depicting such a love story in a dramatic work is still seen as risky. In this respect, the magazine Foreign Policy has stated that “Turkish drama series have succeeded in dealing with many subjects that Arab television is afraid of dealing with, such as gender equality, dealing with treason and love affairs, and discussing the subject of illegitimate children born outside of marriage” (Bassy-Charters, 2010). As to Ask ve Ceza, its most appealing aesthetic feature is the storyline which is divided into romance and action, breaking the convention of the telenovela romance/drama plotlines. Ask ve Ceza’s romance is made attention-grabbing because it is developed between a modern advertising agent young woman (Yasmin) and an educated young man with traditional upbringing (Savas). Most notably, the action plotline, which revolves around old rivalries between Savas’ family tribe and another tribe from the same background, where unexpected sub-stories about murder, drug-dealing, and disloyalty frequently occur, adds to the series’ tense intrigue and maintains the viewers’ curiosity s throughout the one-hundred and twenty-four episodes of the Arabic version.To sum up, the aesthetic values of Turkish soaps have enormously engaged Arab viewers who found pleasure in comparing between their relatively conservative cultural context and the far liberal one of fictional Turkish characters, who take on a different life style, conspicuous in their clothing and behavior codes, despite them being similar in terms of religious beliefs.

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