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Oprah Resonating With Saudi Arabian Women

Photo Illustration: Geoffrey Bennett, NPR

As Oprah Winfrey's trademarked brand of female empowerment beams into living rooms and hair salons across the U.S., her show is also resonating with women in Saudi Arabia, as reported by
Katherine Zoepf of The New York Times.

When "The Oprah Winfrey Show" was first broadcast in Saudi Arabia in November 2004 on a Dubai-based satellite channel, it became an immediate sensation among young Saudi women. Within months, it had become the highest-rated English-language program among women 25 and younger, an age group that makes up about a third of Saudi Arabia's population.

In a country where the sexes are rigorously separated, where topics like sex and race are rarely discussed openly and where a strict code of public morality is enforced by religious police called hai'a, Ms. Winfrey provides many young Saudi women with new ways of thinking about the way local taboos affect their lives — as well as about a variety of issues including childhood sexual abuse and coping with marital strife — without striking them, or Saudi Arabia's ruling authorities, as subversive.

Some women here say Ms. Winfrey's assurances to her viewers — that no matter how restricted or even abusive their circumstances may be, they can take control in small ways and create lives of value — help them find meaning in their cramped, veiled existence.

"Oprah dresses conservatively," explained Princess Reema bint Bandar al-Saud, a co-owner of a women's spa in Riyadh called Yibreen and a daughter of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador to the United States. "She struggles with her weight. She overcame depression. She rose from poverty and from abuse. On all these levels she appeals to a Saudi woman. People really idolize her here."

Who knew? And then there's this:

The largest-circulation Saudi women's magazine, Sayidaty, devotes a regular page to Ms. Winfrey, and dog-eared copies of her official magazine, O, which is not sold in the kingdom, are passed around by women who collect them during trips abroad.

Who wants to join me in counting the days until a shipment of O magazines arrives in Riyadh, care of Harpo, Inc.?



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You get a magazine. YOU get a magazine! EVERYBODY gets a magazine!!!!

Sent by Dan Johnson | 3:59 PM | 9-19-2008

I hope Oprah be careful because if this country is ran my men they probably will hurt the women in some kind of way; if they speak or act out differently. Oprah should be careful also.

Sent by Annie | 12:04 AM | 9-21-2008

It's amazing to see a woman appeal to so many different people here in the U.S and in other countries. Oprah is not built like a supermodel, she does not have blonde hair and blue eyes, and she was not born into wealth, yet women across the world love and respect her for who she is and what she has to offer. The fact that a down-to-earth Black woman from Mississippi, who has gone through the struggles that so many different women face daily has made it so far,appeals to lots of women. People listen to her, take her advice and love her as if they know her, and they look past her skin color. Oprah lets all women know that although we are all different in so many different ways, we are all still women... and its not easy to be a woman!

Sent by Jessica | 6:15 PM | 9-21-2008

I am awed at how fast different forms of Globalization are taking off and reaching other countries, especially media globalization. One would not have guessed that the Middle Eastern area consisting of countries such as Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, would have modernized as quickly as it did. More so, with the war epidemic being extremely heavy in the area, it is just amazing to see how fast technology has entered the area and continues to improve. It is not hard to see why Oprah would be considered a very empowering figure, as it relates to American culture. It is even more honorable to me, that she is a woman of color and substance. For once the world is show an African American figure in a positive light, besides that of the late honorable Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Words cannot express how delightful it is to know that although everyone may have different values and traditions, ultimately the struggles we endure as humans, makes us one in the same.

Sent by Zakita Jones | 11:08 PM | 9-21-2008

Oprah works my last nerve. Saudi Arabia can have her!

Sent by Candice James | 12:32 PM | 9-24-2008