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Social Challenges and Alternative Narratives

A major point that we would like to underline is that Turkish soap operas challenge existing sociocultural roles within Arab societies and provide an alternative view of the world, where ‘women are treated with respect and love, and the romance that seems so unreal in their situation becomes a reality’ (Paschalidou 2014). This is not to say that these social qualities do not exist in Arab societies; rather, it means that Turkish TV series openly offer viewers alternative narratives that are generally considered to be a taboo subject. Turkish drama series provide a comfort zone, partially insulating the viewers from the harsh reality and creating a parallel reality in which life is beautiful (Paschalidou 2014).

Another point to highlight here is that television productions as a form of everyday image-based language can provide better ways of framing a radically changing geopolitical world and everyday social relations within a society (Power and Crampton 2007). Even the most complicated and problematic issues of sociocultural and political occurrences can be expressed smoothly through visual narratives and artistic forms. Under the circumstances, Turkish soap operas’ indisputable ability to present the Turkish way of life which is presumed to be juxtaposing European modernity and Islamic values, for sure, charms viewers as well as academics. Turkish TV series’ contradicting secularist and even propagandist qualities attract millions to the screens and, at the same time, are heavily criticized.

Within the scope of this study, we also explored two sets of questions. The first set of questions included: What is the influence of Turkish soap operas on Egyptian people, mainly students, in terms of their understanding of Turkish culture and Turkey’s role in the Middle East? What kind of Turkish television series do they watch and what actors/actress they favor? The second set of questions included: Why do people watch Turkish TV series? What do they do with them? Furthermore, how can Egyptian audiences’ interpretations of Turkish soap operas be conceptualized, signified, and classified? How and to what degree does Egyptian society interpret Turkish television series? And how can their meaning making be read and codified?

As mentioned, this paper has also tried to highlight how much and to what extent Turkish television series can have the potential to project social, political, moral, and cultural perspectives for audiences in Egypt and in the Arab world in general. Considering Turkey’s continuing efforts to open new pages with the Islamic and Arab world, especially since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) took control of the government in Turkey, every possible instrument of ‘soft power’ became the interest of academics and public diplomacy (Cevik 2014). Thus, the role of Turkish television series in the Arab world is worthy of investigation and the viewers’ opinions of the series matter particularly when taking into account the recent deteriorating relations between Turkey and Egypt. Turkish policy makers therefore take popular products seriously, especially when they produce effects in the so-called Ottoman Empire’s influence areas. Turkish soap operas, for this very reason, are a valuable soft power asset for Turkey and thus worthy of investigation.

When one looks at the popular journal articles produced in Turkish, Arabic, and English, one notices that there is increasing interest in Turkish television series from many corners of the globe, including minority populations of North America (TRT Haber 2013). The popularity of Turkish soap operas is particularly rising in the Arab world. For instance, Jumana Al Tamimi, an associate editor of Gulf News based in Dubai, has reported that a few years ago Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’ad Al Hariri paid a visit to a group of orphans during Ramadan. When he asks the children there what they would want to have the most, their replies caught him off-guard. He expected, like everyone else, that children would ask for material things, such as toys or bicycles; instead, they asked to meet Noor, the main character in the Turkish TV series Gumus (dubbed as Nour in Arabic) and played by the Turkish actress Songul Oden. Then Al Hariri asked his advisers to arrange a meeting with Noor. This and similar anecdotes show that Turkish soap operas are no longer foreign or unreachable for the Arab viewers. It can also be inferred from this anecdote that the stars of Turkish series are not similar to those of Hollywood who can only be seen in one’s dream. In the minds of Arab viewers, Turkish stars are reachable and their personal stories and narratives in which they act present cultural similarities with the everyday life of viewers from Arab countries. As this study highlights, it is partially the cultural and geographical proximity of the narratives and dramatized life of Turkish people that make Turkish drama series successful abroad, especially in the Arab world.

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