Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

Channel surfing on Middle East TV

Its always a curious, interesting experience watching foreign language TV without subtitles. You can learn and discern a lot culturally, even without fully understanding the dialogue. At my parent’s place I often catch a bit of the Middle East stations on cable, and sometimes even watch the Lebanese soap The Storm Rages Twice to keep up some semblance of Arabic speaking skills.

Mum was watching a breathless ‘forbidden love’ Egyptian movie today made in the 1950s that featured a handsome young Omar Sharif, and it gave me the idea for this short cultural (for a change!) commentary.

omar_sharif.jpgSharif’s is an interesting story. Born Michel Demitri Shalhoub of Lebanese/Syrian Christian parentage in Egypt, he converted to Islam in order to marry his Egyptian actress love, Faten Hamama in 1955, consequently taking the name Omar al-Sharif. He and Hamama were romantic leads in several Egyptian movies.

The multi-lingual Sharif hit the Hollywood big-time after being cast in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) alongside Peter O’Toole, and went on to star in Dr Zhivago in 1965.

As a speaker of only very rudimentary Arabic, I marvel at how my parents and relatives can understand and distinguish between so many different national ‘dialects’ of Arabic. Those raised as Arabic speakers can usually quite easily tell whether someone is speaking Egyptian Arabic, or Iraqi Arabic, or Lebanese Arabic, and so on.

I suppose for us English-speaking natives, we can also quite easily discern a Canadian from an American (for me, a common give-away is in how the Canadians pronounce ‘about’ like ‘aboot’), or a Pom/Brit from an Aussie or a Kiwi, notwithstanding also some of the significant internal regional accents. I personally like the New York and Southern accents in the US in particular; here in Australia we have nowhere near the internal regional diversity in accents, any linguistic differences are probably based more on socio-economic rather than geographic lines. Not much opportunity to channel Bernard Shaw’s Professor Higgins ;)

Aside from golden oldie Egyptian movies, Middle Eastern (ME) news, vintage Oum Koltoum and slickly produced interview/ chat-shows, also in my parent’s occasional television viewing repetoire is the Middle East and North African edition of Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

Originating in the UK, there are now over 50 global versions of the Millionaire format. Its a bit of ‘soft power’ cultural imperialism for the Brits who also, I think, exported the Idol franchise: in Portugal, it is Quem quer ser milionário?; in Russia its Кто хочет стать миллионером?; in Italy, Chi vuol essere milionario?; in India, कौन बनेगा करोड़पति ?; in Iceland, Viltu vinna milljón?; in Austria, Die Millionenshow; in Japan, クイズ $ ミリオネア.

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire — the other World Game?

arab-milliionaire-logo.jpgIn 2005 the ME edition changed to (transliterated) Man sa yarbah 2 malyoon, doubling the top prize to 2 rather than 1 million Saudi Riyals (equiv. to half a million US dollars). There have been 3 winners of the top prize, including a student of pharmacy from Gaza, Mohammad Tanirah.

According to Wikipedia, in Australia there have only been 2 millionaire winners of the full kit and kaboodle. The US Millionaire has had 13 top winners.

Taped in Cairo by the Saudi-owned MBC satellite channel, the ME edition Who Wants to Win Two Million, as it is known in Arabic, is hosted by debonaire Lebanese presenter George Kurdahi, with a multinational make-up of contestants from across the Middle East, except Israel, which has its own version (side-swipe: with its recent conspiring to keep millions OUT of the oPt, to add to the withholding of Palestinian tax credits and preventing the re-entry in the past of developers such as Sam Bahour: perhaps the Israeli edition should be Who Wants To Keep The Million(aire)s Out?)

Here are some screen shots I took (thumbnail, click on image for full-size) followed by a short minute and a half video from YouTube:

I inserted this short clip (some of it appears to be out-takes) because I enjoyed watching the mirth of the presenter George Kurdahi. The contestant here seems to be a real comedian. With my limited Arabic, I had to solicit help in translating what was so funny. It was explained to me but it doesn’t really translate very well, the humour gets lost in the translation. Nevertheless I thought its insertion would round off the post, its always good to see people laughing their heads off ;) Run-time: 1:30

15 comments on “Channel surfing on Middle East TV

  1. homeyra
    15 December, 2006

    If they were to make an Iranian “who wants to be a Millionaire” first they should change the title and say “who wants to be a Billionaire” :)
    With our story of inflation, as soon as we can afford to have a bike we are already millionaires!

  2. Curtis
    15 December, 2006

    I had no idea that Millionaire had been so thoroughly reproduced around the world! At least that show provides some form of intellectual stimulation of the Trivial Pursuit variety. Have you seen Deal or No Deal?

    Great post. The southern accent is a marvelous thing, particularly the Appalachian variety as opposed to the more ubiquitous “delta drawl” of the higher castes. :-)

  3. peoplesgeography
    15 December, 2006

    :D Thanks for the laugh on both counts. Ah yes, inflation! I think the Italians had the same problem with their currency, Homeyra, before they switched to the Euro.

    Curt, I agree, at least it exercises the intellectual faculties. We do have Deal or No Deal here but I confess I haven’t really watched it. It’s based on gambling and odds more, isn’t it?

    My interest is piqued re the Appalachian and delta drawl varieties of the US South, and which one do you speak? ‘Higher caste’ indeed, harumph ;)

  4. kilroy
    16 December, 2006

    LoL! Homeyra takes inflation into account – currency and mythology.

    Your mention of “soft power” is numinous to me, Ann. This instrument is used when one class attacks another irrespective of national or cultural boundaries. Capitalism itself is an insidious form of soft power that operates on everyone, and so your article flew me back up to the 100,000 foot plane of existence where I love to be.

    I’m still enamoured with the title of your blog and the description of a place where people reclaim their dreams regardless of territorial imperatives. We Utopians are accustomed to think about only those basic things which each of us needs to survive. We are severe rulers of the different kind of meritocracy that provides each of us a share of the wealth of life itself without regard to artificial structures such as the haves and have nots.

    In my business of software architecture I always start with the proposition that everything is possible. Considerations of cost and feasibility and complexity are put aside while I interrogate the client’s innermost desires, whether they have discovered them or not. Often people dream incredible dreams but thoughts of cost and complex implementations scare them away from the decision to build. I always encourage people to build castles in the sky and worry later about how to put foundations under them. [Thoreau]

    We must never forget that it is we create the future simply by imagining it and we are the ones who have the means to anything we can dream of. We must also remember that we have the final say because we work in the Department of No. If someone comes along with a hurtful, selfish plan for society that will benefit them by excluding others, we have the power to stamp “Disapproved” on their plans. All manner of fantastic things exist between our ears and the power to realize them is limited only by our willingness to work for what we want.

    I’ve always dreamed what I would do if I won a lottery. What magical powers such a boon might bestow upon me that I do not already possess? The answer is always the exactly same. None. What I want you no one can buy with money. I want peace in the world.

    I live in the richest, most powerful nation in the world and all we know how to do with our power is nothing.

  5. peoplesgeography
    16 December, 2006

    Thanks Servant, seems we’re both at home in the stratosphere. :)

    Well, after the surreal experience of being able to teleport, walk and fly around the Second Life virtual world before Ben’s amazing online art exhibition, anything is possible. Thanks for being such a charming companion, even tho’ I didn’t figure out the controls for gestures etc til late in the piece. Will have to write up a post about this most trippy of experiences.

    I was particularly inspired by: “All manner of fantastic things exist between our ears and the power to realize them is limited only by our willingness to work for what we want.”

    Re Homeyra on currency and mythology, her place is replete with interesting commentary and well worth a visit, as is Curt’s superlative site. Now that you and I have virtually visited Belgium, well I thought you’d enjoy Teheran and Athens as well ;)

  6. Bluebear2
    17 December, 2006

    When Dr. Zhivago was in the theatres my best friend of the time looked just like Omar Sharif. We went to see the movie together and I would look at the screen then at my friend. It was strange to feel as if part of the movie was sitting next to me.

  7. question
    8 August, 2007

    I am trying to find out why the theme music from Storm rages twice has the same theme music from Schindler’s list. Any ideas? If it is a folk song why has the theme in Schindler’s been attributed entirely to John Williams?

    : Hi, don’t know why this quite long piece of music was chosen other than for its aesthetic musical value, nor about its attribution. Have you performed a search to determine this?

  8. question
    12 August, 2007

    Ann I have performed a search through google and there is no mention of the origin of the melody in the theme. After I heard the theme on “the storm rages twice”, I asked one of my friends and they said its an arabic song. Not sure if this correct. I can’t read Arabic, so I was wondering if there is an attribution in the credits in “a Storm rages twice” to John Williams.

  9. Ann El Khoury
    12 August, 2007

    I’ll find out for you about the credits in Arabic — I have plenty of Storm Rages Twice tapes I’m sure I can check.

    Regarding the origin of the melody, my own web searches seems to bring up results that hints at origins in Jewish folk themes, but even here different pages say different things.

    A reviewer at Amazon here (Alex Diaz) writes: “Williams’ “Theme from Schindler’s List” is a poignant composition that has its roots in the musical style favored by Eastern European Jews. That Williams can write scores using forms and instrumentation used by other cultures is not surprising.” Zachary Houp, in the review below, writes: “Frequently intermingled are appropriate and stirring excerpts from Hebrew hymns”.

    If the folk origins are indeed Hebrew Jewish, it is possible they are a shared Middle Eastern folk heritage. If the musical themes emanate from Eastern European Jewry however, it is unlikely the folk origins are Arabic. I’d invite anyone with appropriate musical-cultural insight to add to this … in the meantime, I hope you find the answers you seek and I’ll see about the credits in Arabic if you’d like to check back in a couple of days or so.

  10. question
    23 August, 2007

    Thanks, Ann. Actually I did look at that review. As you can see there is no reference to Arab or a general middle eastern influence. That is why I am mystified about why the “Storm rages only twice” has that melody. There are so many Lebanese songs that the producers of the soap could have chosen. Also, it would have cost much more to pay John Williams for the rights to use the music in the soap.

    Checked again with my friend who says he heard a singer singing it in the past but can’t remember who. He thinks it could be a singer called Fairuz.

  11. Ann El Khoury
    26 August, 2007

    Hi again, I’ve checked both opening and closing credits and the theme music, unless we missed it, did not appear in them. The plot thickens. If anyone sheds any light, I’ll pass on the info.

  12. Carol
    28 April, 2008

    Hi – sorry for bumping an old topic, but I was doing a search on The Storm Rages Twice, and this site came up. The theme music is, indeed, the same tune as the theme from Schindler’s List. There are numerous arrangements and recordings, including piano, guitar, and, of course, orchestra. I’m sorry I can’t shed any more light on the traditional origins of the tune (untill reading this page, I wasn’t aware that it was a traditional Hebrew tune!). Apparently the composition borrows significantly from Jewish music of the Eastern European tradition.
    Am watching SRT as I type this. Last episode, apparently. I’ve not been able to find anything about it on the internet.
    Ah, well.
    Best wishes

  13. Ben
    28 April, 2008

    Hi Ann and Carol, I think the problem is that “The Storm Rages Twice” is a unique translation by SBS. Perhaps if you search for the name in the original Arabic you’ll have more hits.

    Ann do you know how your parents get Middle Eastern TV? I’m assuming they’re in Australia, right?

  14. Ann
    28 April, 2008

    Hi Carol and Ben,
    Thanks for your comments. I stayed up late and watched the very last episode too, Carol, its one of my few tv indulgences and I usually tape it for my mother. When I saw it was a double episode I had an inkling it was the final. The writers tied up all the loose ends nicely, didn’t they?

    Good point, Ben. When I was in Lebanon I asked some relatives about it and they didn’t know to which program I was referring, in large part because I may have been translating the title differently. I do have an Arabic keyboard and will endeavour to hook it up and do a search as the title appears in Arabic, with some help.

    Ben, they don’t have it currently but I understand several Middle east stations are available both through satellite in Australia as well as through Optus (ART, LBC and Al Jazeera. Not sure about Foxtel).

    I also recommend the Al Jazeera English channel freely available on YouTube which is worth a regular browse.

  15. Ben
    28 April, 2008

    How ’bout that – we were all watching the finale. I found the show pretty entertaining now that I can understand more Arabic but the subtitles are handy too. I don’t think they had them the last time I saw the show.

    Thanks for the links Ann. I’m looking into keeping what Arabic skills I’ve acquired active while I’m back in Australia and as cheaply as possible. looks to be a really handy resource for that.

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