Egypt’s High Fatwa Council (Dâru’l-İftâ) recently issued a fatwa, stating that under no circumstances should Turkish TV series be watched.
It warned the Arab public that Turkey was in pursuit of regional hegemony through its dramas and that they should not help serve this purpose.
In the fatwa, which was penned like a political manifesto, it was claimed that “Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is trying to revive the Ottoman Empire and is using TV dramas to this end.”
With no reference to Islamic belief whatsoever, it accused the TV series of inciting violence and murder, criticizing Islamic teachings and deceiving the masses regarding historical facts.
This fatwa, which proves that religious affairs are completely controlled by the government and under the command of the military, is the latest in a series of attacks against Turkish TV series which are closely followed by Arab peoples and have reached millions more.
After Turkey openly opposed the toppling of Egypt’s Mohammad Mursi, the idea to “Boycott Turkish TV series” came straight from an official authority, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, which was followed by the biggest TV channel in the Middle East- funded by Saudi Arabia- officially taking action: MBC (Middle East Broadcasting Center) first took Turkish TV series off its broadcast, and then tried to smear the Ottoman Empire when it launched the Kingdoms of Fire (Memâliku’n-Nâr) series last year.
The series, shot in Tunisia and aired between Nov. 17 and Dec. 9, 2019, describes the conquest of Egypt by the Ottomans during the reign of Yavuz Sultan Selim, while depicting the Empire as an "invader", "violent" and "bully" state. The fact that the show is funded by the United Arab Emirates came as no surprise either.
Despite official bans and so-called fatwas by states, Turkish dramas are still being followed fervently by large masses across the Arab world.
Thanks to the internet, it has become impossible to completely ban these series. If MBC won’t air them, then YouTube will.
So what makes Turkish TV series so charming to an Arab audience? It’s in fact a multi-layered answer.
Because a myriad of dramas, a myriad of content graces audiences’ screens.
When we consider the general situation, Turkish dramas are popular because;
First and foremost, in the filming and presentation of these dramas, there is a serious sense of quality that cannot be compared to that of the shows aired in the Arab world.
Additionally, we cannot overlook the exquisiteness of the historical locations and natural sets where the scenes are filmed, as well as the fact that the actors and actresses are physically attractive.
This is why when presenting tours to Arabs planning to visit Turkey, tour operators offer them options such as taking them to “the mansion where the famous show was filmed,” the “village seen in...” or the place where some famous actor lives.
I have witnessed it firsthand: Arab tourists are first going to visit mansions where popular shows have been shot on Istanbul’s Bosporus before touring famous landmarks like the Topkapı Palace, the Hagia Sophia or Sultanahmet Mosque.
There are two other elements that increase the popularity of these shows: action and epicurean desires. Both Turkey’s “Muslim and Western” image which have been reflected in the dramas, captures Arabs’ attention and appetite. This aspect is one of the main reasons they flock to Turkey: In the Arabs’ eyes, Istanbul in particular is a city in which saints and sinners roam freely.
The steps taken by Arab governments and their states to lure their people away from these series are doomed to have a limited reach at best. They too are aware that they are failing to actualize the effect they’re aim for. In the long run however, I’m concerned that their destructive and divisive politics will seriously impact the fraternity of the Muslim world.
How are Arab children, who are constantly exposed to the negative propaganda of their states, going to perceive our common history or the Ottoman Empire in the decades to come? The answer to this question unfortunately is rife with significant risks.
So what are we to do? The answer is quite plain and simple: to produce non-stop and materialize just what those despot regimes fear. In other words, to be worthy of their fear.