According to the WSJ, The Oprah Winfrey Show now airs in Saudi Arabia twice a day, five days a week. And it turns out she is a smash hit with young women. Conversation now apparently often begins with a hushed and eager "Did you see Oprah last night?"
Actually, Oprah is being smuggled into Saudi Arabia and the lives of these young women. Saudi TV is controlled but more than nine out of 10 households have a satellite dish. This gives the Saudis access to MBC4, a pan-Arab satellite station based in Dubai and the Oprah show.
Naturally, Saudi elites are not happy about it. The WSJ quotes Maha Akeel, a Saudi journalist.
"Weekly, there are critics who say [Oprah and other Western programs] are a cultural invasion and inappropriate to society, but [because of satellite transmission from Dubai] there’s really nothing they nor the government can do."
Some of you will remember that Charlotte Beers was appointed by then Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in the aftermath of the terrorist attack of 9/11 to change the way people in the Middle East thought about the US.
Beers said that she would tackle this problem by treating America as a "brand" and informed Businessweek, that "the whole idea of building a brand is to create a relationship between the product and its user."
Well, maybe. A simple reconnaissance would have told us that there were at least two groups in Saudi Arabia who would respond with special force to the idea of liberty and the meme called choice. Feminism had created a potent ideology that would speak to one of these. What was needed was a Trojan horse to get the this message in. Bless the Oprah Winfrey Show and satellite technology.
Hana Balaa, director of the TNS Female Research Center in Saudi Arabia says, "Women are increasingly seeking ways to express themselves and their individuality. […] Saudi women are also looking at their neighbors, like Dubai, or Kuwait, where women recently got the right to vote."
I guess this is where political philosophy and marketing (strange bed partners!) begin to look a lot alike.
El-Rashidi, Yasmine. 2005. ‘Oprah’ Is Attracting Young, Female Viewers To TV in Saudi Arabia
The Wall Street Journal. December 1, 2005; Page B1. (Sorry, WSJ isn’t giving me an URL. Go to www.wsj.com and search for "Oprah." Subscription required.)
McCracken, Grant. 2004. America in the Middle East. This Blog Sits At… March 31, 2004. here.