"Talk shows are raising people's consciousness," says Myriam Sfeir, an editor at the Beirut-based Journal Al-Raida, which focuses on women in the Arab world."They're reaching women who are stuck at home, or who think being liberal means wearing short skirts and going to the beach.The group dives into the controversy--how could Dominique mix motherhood with eroticism?Talk about indecent-- cuddling her child while her husband comes on to her!Last year another program, Starting Over, focused on six women living in a luxury flat outside Beirut and working with a team of psychologists, career counselors, and personal stylists to help reshape their lives on-air.One woman overcame crippling shyness; another started her own business.The shows have attracted millions of fans--and controversy."These programs are in contradiction with our habits and with the principles of Islam," fumed Lebanese cleric sheikh Muhammad Hamdi.
and the stunningly successful Middle Eastern version of American Idol, called Super Star.
Until about a decade ago, Arab television was a seriously staid affair: state-owned channels with stiff presenters reading government-approved cue cards.
But with the advent of fiercely competitive regional channels, there has been an explosion of sexed-up programming.
Only one host--Muna Abu Sulayman, a Saudi Arabian working on a Ph. in American literature--is veiled, her shimmering hijab the shade of moonbeams. Known for her sexy film roles and scanty outfits, the young Egyptian star stunned her followers by recently deciding to wear the veil.
"I'm really at peace--wearing the hijab gives me true power," Shiha says, her head swathed in a bright orange polka-dot scarf pushed back to expose her amber eyes.
More than half of Arab women are illiterate, meaning TV, rather than books or newspapers, serves as their window on the wider world.