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HOME > Big Brother (International Editions)

Endemol to launch pan-Arab version of 'Big Brother'


By Wade Paulsen, 09/09/2003 

The hottest trend in reality TV outside the U.S. at this moment is mutinational games. Over the summer, two became huge smashes. Now, according to Daily Variety (subscription required), Endemol is seeking to combine them, by introducing a pan-Arab version of Big Brother on Bahrain-based Channel 2 for broadcast throughout the Arab world.

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The show combines elements of Endemol's Big Brother Africa, which featured players from 12 African countries, was conducted in English and concluded this week, and Simon Fuller's Superstar (aka Pop Idol in the U.K. and American Idol in the U.S.), which featured 12 finalists from 7 Arab countries, was conducted in Arabic and concluded in August.

Unlike Big Brother Africa, which generated many complaints from conservative religious and political leaders, the Big Brother Middle East house will be specially adapted for some (but not all) local religious customs. For example, men and women will be separated from each other in the bathrooms, bedrooms and prayer rooms. However, they will be able to mix in the dining room, kitchen and garden. In keeping with the generally lesser status of women in Arab countries, the men will have a living room, but the women will not. Don't look for any sex in the house, unlike Africa or the U.S.. But don't look for the women to wear full-body chadors, either -- instead, the women will most likely dress in the Western style adopted by Superstars winner Diana Karzon from Jordan.

Unfortunately, because the show will be in Arabic, it will probably not receive as much Western attention as Big Brother Africa did. Nevertheless, Big Brother Middle East represents a fascinating cultural phenomenon -- especially if, as expected, the house features both Sunni and Shi'ite Muslins, as well as representatives of some of the freer (such as Bahrain) and some of the more restrictive Arab countries. As a representative from Channel 2 put it, Big Brother Middle East will "promot[e] dialogue between the 12 Arab housemates from different cultures, countries and backgrounds."

Indeed, because it will do just that, it is likely to be condemned by fundamentalist Islamic groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, who also condemned Superstar for "facilitat[ing] the culture of globalization led by America."

First the fall of the Taliban, then the disappearence of Osama bin Laden, then the fall of Saddam Hussein, then Superstar, now Big Brother Middle East. It's been a rough spell for the radical fundamentalists of Islam. Maybe they should contribute to the U.S. presidential campaign of Howard Dean, who seems unlikely to pay much attention to the Middle East, since he doesn't even know that Iraq is part of it.









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