Eric Weiner, NPR
A television blares an entertainment show at a Cairo outdoor cafe. In the background, satellite dishes and antennas cover the roof of an apartment building.
Eric Weiner, NPR
Roubi (real name: Rania Hussein) began her career as a model and actress in TV commercials before becoming a huge pop star in her native Egypt and most of the Arabic-speaking world.
Until very recently, television viewers in the Arabic-speaking world could only watch one channel, and what was broadcast was tightly controlled by the government.
But the modern satellite era has resulted in hundreds of channels to choose from — and some entertainment programs are posing a real challenge to the ethics, morals and traditions of a region dominated by conservative Islam.
Satellite dish receivers cover the rooftops in most major cities in the Arabic world, and most viewers have access to up to 200 channels.
In a society where social mingling is tightly controlled, one of the most popular avenues of televised escape is music videos. In Egypt, a young singer named Roubi has made a name for herself with her sultry lip-synching and suggestive, hip-swaying dance moves.
That's nothing new in the Arabic world, where viewers have had access to American programming for years — but Ruby represents a new, homegrown version that is definitely igniting controversy. So-called "reality TV" shows are popular, too.
Devout Muslims aren't the only ones who object to the profusion of racy music videos and "reality" shows — some secular Arabs worry about what effect the videos are having on young people. But there is very little Arab governments can do now to stop the profusion of satellite dishes.
"Some observers look at the world of Arab satellite television and see more than fluff. They see the glimmers of democracy," Weiner says. "Many of the shows give Arab viewers a chance to vote for their favorite contestants — perhaps their first opportunity ever to participate in a free election, of sorts."