Turkish soap operas provide chance for dialogue with Arabs

Turkish soap operas provide chance for dialogue with Arabs

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkish soap operas provide chance for dialogue with Arabs

Bahrain’s Culture Minister, who says she can’t watch Turkish TV series for lack of time, knows many around her is fond of Muhteşem Yüzyıl, (Magnificent Century), on the life of Sultan Suleiman. DAILY NEWS photos, Emrah GÜREL

Turkey’s most famous current cultural export, its television series, have drawn huge Arab audiences because of the country’s ability to depict a lifestyle that is both ground in tradition and eminently open and modern, Bahrain’s culture minister has said. 

“[Turkey’s TV] series present an image of stability wherein contemporary practices and Western lifestyles can co-exist with Islamic and Arab identities and culture,” Shaikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa said.
Turkey’s economic prowess has equally proven that being Muslim need not entail backwardness, Al Khalifa 

“The Islamic structure in Turkey did not prevent Turkey from developing,” she recently told the Hürriyet Daily News. “It is open to all views. We take Turkey as a model.” 

Q: Why do you think Turkish soap operas are so popular in the Arab World?

A: Turkish soap operas are incredibly popular in Bahrain and throughout the Arab world. I think the reason for their popularity is twofold. The historical series serve people’s imaginations in reflecting different elements of the past, thereby appealing to their emotions and Arab identities, while the more contemporary series represent a picture of Turkey which is very positive. 

The latter series present an image of stability wherein contemporary practices and Western lifestyles can co-exist with Islamic and Arab identities and culture. The image both types of series reflect of Turkey is of an open and engaging culture, which seems to have found some balance between the different traditions and practices of today’s world and which has both an Eastern and Western appeal. This is very attractive to Bahraini and Arab audiences and presents us with an interesting cultural dialogue and scope for exchange between Arabs and Turks today.

Q: How do you see Turkey’s role in the Middle East?

A: Turkey has a big influence on political balances. And we have big expectations. Turkey is an Islamic country, but it is developing and growing. The Islamic structure in Turkey did not prevent Turkey from developing. It shows that Islam does not mean backwardness. It is open to all views. We take Turkey as a model, especially in areas of culture and tourism. It is modern and progressive but, at the same time, it gives importance to its values. 

Turkey’s stance toward Bahrain has been very valuable to us. It was very balanced and it has never changed. Turkey is becoming stronger economically, and this increases its influence. This is only natural.

Q: Bahrain was very quick to start a reform process in the early days of the Arab Spring. But it was seen as insufficient by the opposition, as well as by some representatives of international community. What is tying Bahrain’s hands? With a bit of an extra effort, could it perhaps avoid the problems it is currently facing?

A: As you know, our king [Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa 
] asked for the formation of BICI [the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry], headed by [Egypt’s Cherif] Bassiouni to investigate the incidents. Bassiouni’s report says that Bahrain took a big leap forward while the opposition did not do much. It calls on the opposition to move forward. They are not doing anything for reform or dialogue. They [the opposition] have a specific agenda but they don’t want reform.

Q: What does the opposition want then? Not all the opposition groups want to topple the ruling royal family.

A: The opposition wants to topple the administration and wants to establish a regime like the one in Iraq and Iran. As you know, Bahrain has been for years a country open to the world; it has never been a closed country.

Q: But observers familiar with Bahrain say that Shiites in Bahrain do not necessarily take Iran as a reference point.

A: The incidents have shown us that Shiite parties are getting their instructions from some centers in Iran. What I don’t understand is that while the opposition says they want social reform, they are acting in a way that is destructive to the country’s economy. Their actions are detrimental to the steps taken by the king. Our king started the reform process 10 years ago. Reforms in Bahrain started before the Arab Spring. But, of course, the Arab Spring has affected us as well. In that period, our crown prince, tasked by the king with entering into a dialogue with the opposition, made a call on all political parties to come to the table to discuss problems. Yet the opposition did not come to the table. After that, incidents have been intentionally escalated. And the security of the country has started to be jeopardized.

Q: You are talking about reforms, but there is a belief that they have been very limited and were done for cosmetic purposes.

A: This is not true. The Bassiouni commission made recommendations to the government, as well as to the opposition. We have implemented the recommendations but the opposition [has not].

Q: But what exactly do you think the opposition is after?

A: In contrast to the countries that surround it, Bahrain is an open country. It is an open country to all cultures and religions. The opposition, meanwhile, wants a regime based on religious references. We don’t want that. We don’t want to go hundreds of years backward. We want to move forward. There are several political parties in Bahrain, and people have been living together without any problem.

Q: Countries like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are criticized for exaggerating a Shiite fear in order to secure the survival of their regime and oppress the opposition.

A: These are not things that we are exaggerating. These are things that take place in real life. There are islands that belong to the United Arab Emirates; Iran has an eye on them. 

Q: The fact that Saudi military forces came to Bahrain has reinforced the view that the country has become a battleground between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

A: This is a misunderstanding. There is a defense agreement between the Gulf countries. But the Saudi forces have not entered the cities; they just tried to defend oil facilities.

Q: But isn’t Bahrain a battle ground between Saudi Arabia and Iran?

A: We live in a specific [region]. It is perhaps in the destiny of small countries to be the [battleground] of conflict [between] big powers. But I’d like to emphasize that the press needs to write about reforms. Bahrain is a country that focuses on development. Education and heath are free for everybody.

Q: But it is said that Shiites are not benefiting equally from these.

A: But some Shiites … are burning the facilities on their own. In some villages, they don’t let municipalities enter [to conduct repairs]. There are two cultures in Bahrain, one is about developing the country, and trying to open the country more to the world, while the other is based on destruction. 

Q: What does the Arab Spring represent for Bahrain? How does it see it?

A: Each country displays a difference. The incidents first started in Tunisia. There were economic problems in Tunisia, and no freedom of expression. Look at Bahrain; there is a job for everyone. The economy is good. 

Q: So Bahrain does not need an Arab Spring?

A: The true spring in Bahrain started 10 years ago. Reforms started 10 years ago. But we did not do enough to explain it to the international public.

Great-grand father saved by Ottomans

Ottoman generosity and spirit has provided a lasting memory for Bahraini Culture Minister Shaikha Mai’ bint Mohammed Al Khalifa’s family.

The story of the minister’s great-grandfather, Shaikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, a Bahraini ruler during the 19th century, is no less thrilling than a television series.

He was exiled to India by the British in 1869, spending seven years there before moving to Yemen for another seven years. It was his ex-wife, Latifa, who took up the pain of his exile changed the course of his life outside Bahrain. She traveled across the Ottoman realms in order to meet with the sultan in an attempt to have her ex-husband released. Her endeavors were successful as historical documents show that she met with Sultan Abdülhamid and that she wrote to Queen Victoria, requesting that Shaikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Khalifa be released. 

This intercession was received by Queen Victoria who then, on the occasion of jubilee celebrations, allowed Shaikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Khalifa to travel under Ottoman protection. Not only was the sultan’s benevolence clear at this critical juncture, but the assistance continued for the remainder of Shaikh Mohammed’s life as he lived under the care of the sultan in Mecca. 

There, he was provided with the livelihood of an Ottoman prince and stayed in the holy city until his death three years later.

Who is Shaikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa?

Turkish soap operas provide chance for dialogue with Arabs

An established writer and historian, Shaikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa has been recognized for her work in promoting art and culture and the revival of heritage. She founded the Shaikh Ebrahim Bin Mohammed Al Khalifa Center for Culture and Research and has served as chair of the center’s Board of Trustees since 2002. She actively works to foster culture and the traditional architecture of Bahrain. 

With the endorsement of Bahrain’s private sector, she has renovated and restored some of the remaining historical landmarks of the last remaining Arabian Gulf city, Muharraq. Shaikha Mai has been Bahrain’s Minister of Culture since 2010.

She received the Legion d’Honneur in Arts and Literature, France’s most prestigious award, in 2008 from the and in 2010 received the the Colbert Creation and Heritage Award, which was presented for the first time by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.