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July 31st, 2007
Dishing Democracy
Arab TV Guide

The advent of satellite channels has had profound effects on TV programming in the Arab world. Before satellite TV, viewers watched a variety of non-controversial entertainment programs, films and soaps. And news programming was largely composed of political speeches by government officials and protocol activities.

Today, people in the region have access to a diversity of programming, focusing on news, music and reality TV, which continue to grow in influence and popularity.

News and political talk shows like THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION give viewers the opportunity to join in the dialogue or debate via live call-ins, while reality shows like STAR ACADEMY encourage viewers to participate by casting their vote.

This Arab TV Guide highlights other popular programs throughout the Middle East.

WITNESS WITNESS is a daily international documentary series featuring shorts that are commissioned or acquired, often coming from independent filmmakers. The half-hour episodes cover conflict, religion, history and current affairs. In each program, host Rageh Omar explores the issues raised in the film in a question-and-answer format with experts and the filmmakers. The series aims to showcase the work of emerging video journalists.
ACROSS THE OCEAN Hosted by journalist Hisham Melhem, ACROSS THE OCEAN is a weekly talk show from Washington that addresses U.S. policy toward the Arab world. The program also takes a closer look at the daily life of average Arab-Americans living in the U.S. and the issues they face.
FOURTH ESTATE The FOURTH ESTATE, or AS-SULTAH AR-RABIAH, highlights the role and influence of the media in the world and how it differs from one culture to another. Each week, host Giselle Habib reviews international print media, especially major dailies from the U.S. and Europe. The 30-minute program focuses on significant news and events that are of interest to the Arab public and often features interviews with journalists from all over the world and solicits their comments and remarks.
FROM IRAQ FROM IRAQ is a socio-political program that aims to uncover the realities in Iraq by examining the sufferings of Iraqi people. The weekly show, hosted by various Al Arabiya correspondents, features real-life images, confessions from witness testimonies, and analytical reports. Each report is followed by an interview with an influential Iraqi.
THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION Much like CNN’s CROSSFIRE, THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION or AL-ITTIJAH AL-MUAKIS invites guests with opposing opinions to debate a controversial political topic. The program often features exiled Arab dissidents and a member of their respective government. Almost always, this combination produces explosive results. Airing every Tuesday for 90 minutes, THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION has secured its role in Arab satellite television history as one of the most popular shows of all time, and certainly one of the most divisive.
DEATH INDUSTRY DEATH INDUSTRY, or SINAAT AL-MAWT, is a weekly program that addresses Islam and global terrorism. Rima Salha, the anchor of the show, is one of the first journalists to speak publicly against using Islam as a justification for terrorism. Since the show launched last year, she has received countless death threats via email. The 60-minute program approaches the topic from various perspectives, providing insight and analysis through religious, social, economic and political contexts. The show contains rare footage, often aired publicly for the first time. It also features exclusive interviews and discussions with well-known figures.
ALAM AL SABAH In 1993, ALAM AL SABAH, or THE WORLD IN THE MORNING, was the first morning show to be launched in the Arab world. Taped before a live audience, segments include horoscope, nutrition, health, cooking, fashion, culture, cinema, and music.
STAR ACADEMY The reality television show STAR ACADEMY, which started airing in 2003, is a talent competition featuring young Arab men and women from across the region. The candidates compete in three categories: dance, music, and acting. Each show follows the candidates as they train, and every Friday the contestants perform in front of a live audience. In addition to the one-hour weekly broadcast, viewers can tune into an affiliated station that follows the contestants 24 hours a day throughout the four months. Hosted by Hilda Khalife, the show is based in Beirut, Lebanon and was modeled after the French television show STAR ACADEMY.
SUPER STAR Based on the popular British talent show POP IDOL, SUPER STAR is the first to feature contestants from multiple countries. The weekly show, which offers a platform for viewers to vote and choose the next singing sensation, is broadcast worldwide on Future TV, a Lebanese television station. Recently, the show has been overshadowed by STAR ACADEMY, a rival show on LBC.
BEL SARAHA AHLA BEL SARAHA AHLA, or BETTER WITH FRANKNESS, is a makeover show that focuses on body image and health. Viewers nominate themselves or friends who lack a sense of style and self-awareness to receive a new look that will empower them. Like many of its Western predecessors, the show takes viewers through a step-by-step process as the subjects are transformed from fashion victims to fabulously fashionable. The 90-minute show offers style tips and includes the subject’s family and friends. Joelle Mardinian, a celebrity wardrobe and make-up artist, drives the show’s ratings as she unmasks the hidden character traits underneath her subjects tired looks.
BIG BROTHER BIG BROTHER, filmed in Bahrain, was released in 2004 but within a week faced demands by Bahrain’s government to end the show. Islamist groups opposed the program because it featured young men and women living together. This sparked debates in Bahrain’s parliament as well as across the region. While some members of parliament argued against taking the show off the air, suggesting it would hurt Bahrain’s global reputation, the show was still terminated. MBC lost approximately $8 million in the ordeal.
WHO WANTS TO WIN A MILLION? The Arabic language version of the international phenomenon WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE? has taken Arabic viewers by storm, with ratings dwarfing even the most beloved comedy shows and soap operas. The show continues to garner high ratings by offering two million dollars to contestants from all over the Arab world.
BEAUTY CLINIC BEAUTY CLINIC is an extreme make over reality television show that seeks out women in distress who have both medical and psychological problems. The hour-long show attempts to help them through a series of surgical operations and psychological support. Over 20 leading doctors work with the patients to try to treat their needs. The show also enlists dermatologists, dieticians, beauty experts, and hair stylists. In addition to the makeover, the program highlights the struggle, surprises, and support that the main subject receives from the staff, family, and friends.
AL RASOOL EL ENSAN AL RASOOL EL ENSAN is a show about Prophet Mohammed’s personal life, depicting him as a man of simplicity and humbleness. It speaks about his family life and spiritual path. Hosted by Dr. Tareq Suwaidan, the show humanizes the Prophet Mohammed and illustrates how he managed his emotions and interacted with his neighbors, friends and foes.
KHAWATER SHAB II Khawater Shab II, presented by Ahmed El-Shokiry, discusses issues facing Arab youth. Airing during Ramadan, each episode addresses a different social aspect of daily life such as diet, cleanliness, and mutual respect.
KALAM NAWAEM In this groundbreaking all-female talk show, four women discuss up-to-the-minute news, and real-life stories. Inspired by ABC’s THE VIEW, this weekly program is hosted by women of different ages, nationalities, and points of view who tackle such sensitive issues as homosexuality, domestic violence, women voting, and social and political gender equality. Opinions are always exchanged and often heated, always leaving viewers wanting more. This show is arguably one of the most successful shows on television in the Arab world today.
TURN THE PAGE WITH MAHMOUD SAAD Each Ramadan Mahmoud Saad gets close and intimate with the well-known stars of the Arab world. With his inquisitive and arguably demanding questions, Saad seduces the stars into revealing secrets, opinions, and stories that are often surprising and always interesting. All the episodes feature a professional psychologist off-screen whose job is to analyze every word and answers the celebrities give. When the interview is over, a summary of the celebrity’s personality is given to Saad and the guest. The shows airs at 7:30 pm everyday during the holy month of Ramadan.
BIG TALK In BIG TALK, the Arab world’s first Muslim sexologist, Heba Kotb, answers questions about sex from Muslim women around the Middle East. Broadcast in a region where sex is not discussed openly, the weekly sex education program has taken the Middle East by storm.
SIRE WENFATAHIT Every Monday for the last seven years, Arab society comes face to face with its own taboos and social values on this show that chronicles the personal experiences of normal people from all walks of life. Show topics include transsexuality, rape, globalization, and individuality – all issues that are considered unmentionable in traditional Arab society. The program, hosted by Zaven, is one of the top talk shows in the Arab world. In true democratic spirit, the show’s agenda is set by viewers who vote on specific hot topics they would like to discuss.
TASH MA TASH For more than 14 years, TASH MA TASH has been broadcast immediately after the breaking of the fast during the holy month of Ramadan in the Arab world. Broadcast from Saudi Arabia, the satirical comedy is a cultural satire highlighting the poor public services, problems in public and private hospitals, unemployment, monopolies, and the failings of local bureaucracy. The show raises these sensitive issues with a humorous undertone, a concept previously foreign to the Gulf region, especially Saudi Arabia. This social experiment of sorts tackles issues such as female Asian help being raped by their male Saudi employers, the easy availability of alcohol in the Kingdom, and the separation of men and women. During Ramadan, it is always the talk of the town.
THE ROOF OF THE WORLD The drama series ROOF OF THE WORLD tells the story of a young writer from Baghdad, whose caravan passes by a group of Vikings, whom he eventually befriends. The storyline follows him as he attempts to restore an old Arabic manuscript written 1,000 years ago.
STYLE WITH JOELLE STYLE WITH JOELLE presents the most current trends in the fashion world, answering viewers’ needs in beauty, decoration, health, sports, and lifestyle. The entertainment program takes viewers globe-trotting to all the fashion capitals of the world, including Milan, Paris, and New York. The host, former Miss Lebanon’s Joelle Bohlok, reveals her fashion secrets, tells stories from her modeling days and talks about celebrities and women interests.
IKAA IKAA is a weekly entertainment program that features two different teams, each equipped with a celebrity guest, that compete against each other in various games and trivia.

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