No I don’t mean the military kind. Hezbollah’s Al Manar TV is airing Iranian soap operas. I wonder how successful they will be and to what extent the move is a reaction to Turkish soap operas which have taken the region by storm. Almost every major Arab broadcaster is now airing multiple Turkish drama serials, known for their relatively liberal social norms and striking actors who have now become stars across the region and yet attacked by some religious leaders.

Perhaps Al Manar is trying to provide a more ‘wholesome’ coach potato alternative. There could also be a cultural value aspect. While Iran’s military support has been critical to Hezbollah, the Iranian leadership seems to have made few inroads on the social side with barely a single Persian restaurant operating in Beirut (sadly), let alone any major cultural events.

But Iranian drama faces an uphill battle. The buzz surrounding Turkish shows has partly been driven by a groundbreaking decision to dub them into a colloquial Arabic accent, rather than less personable formal Arabic, used for years to dub the formerly dominant genre of Latin American soaps. Yet as seen in the photo above, Al Manar has chosen to go with Arabic subtitling instead, which could prove less attractive to viewers.

Above all, whether Mexican, Turkish or Iranian, the rising popularity of imported dramas raises bigger questions about the quality of locally produced Arabic language serials, where scripts and production values leave a lot to be desired. Since most of these productions take place in either Egypt or Syria, it will be interesting to see what impact the revolts may have on the sector, which struggles with censorship and cronyism.      

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