October 31st, 2008
02:29 PM ET

“Oprah” of Arabia…

CNN's Octavia Nasr explores the reason behind Oprah Winfrey's popularity among Arabs.
CNN's Octavia Nasr explores the reason behind Oprah Winfrey's popularity among Arabs.

Octavia Nasr
Arab Affairs Editor

She's viewed as the face of success.. and her story inspires so many women particularly in the Arab world...

When Arabs are asked why they like Oprah Winfrey, many say she empowers them... teaches them... and gives them something to look forward to.

A woman we caught up with in the streets of Beirut said, "She also gave me courage to speak out about certain problems we don't (usually) speak about… like women’s freedom and sex abuse."

Women’s rights and sexual abuse are often completely taboo in most of the Arab Middle East, which remains conservative– unable or unwilling to address tough topics openly. A woman is sometimes forced to hide the fact that she was raped for fear of repercussions from society or even her own family. Yes, honor killing continues to be practiced in some parts of the Arab world.

The Saudi-owned Middle East Broadcasting Center is based in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. It ushers Oprah Winfrey straight into people's homes across the Middle East region five days a week... in English with Arabic subtitles.

The show is popular among Arab women, many of whom are still fighting for basic rights, such as driving or traveling without male guardian permission.

Maha Al-Faleh is a Saudi professional who sees Oprah as an inspiration. She says, "I witnessed first hand women opening up to their families about their own fears and insecurities when they were inspired by either Oprah or her guests."

Buthaina al-Nassr, is also Saudi.. She's a popular TV personality who is inspired by Oprah. She tells CNN, "We have many great writers, TV presenters and successful talk show hosts but we have no Oprah.. man or woman. The reason is that our governments aren't ready to see an Arabian Oprah on TV." Al-Nassr points out that “without true democracy and freedom of speech no Arab man or woman can do what Oprah does.”

It’s not just women who like Oprah and follow her show closely. Some men also offer praise for the talk show host. A man we interviewed in Dubai says, "I think that she is such an influential lady with the capability of influencing ladies and giving them a sense of achievement and a sense of projecting what is good about being a woman.” He adds, “It's nice to be a mother, it's nice to be a housewife but I believe a woman would be much more helpful to society if she is given her rights and more freedom to achieve her goals."

An Arab world fascinated by one woman who is crowned in one article as "the media queen." Some Arabs say, with the freedom of speech they're fighting for– perhaps one day they'll crown their own version of Oprah Winfrey.

Filed under: Global 360° • Octavia Nasr • Women's Issues
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Gisselle - Houston, Texas

    I think Oprah should run for the senate in IL to replace Obama's seat! She is wonderful, hopefully she'll become more active politically in a near future.

    October 31, 2008 at 7:36 pm |
  2. Michael Bosnell

    Something we should all think about Anderson and if you think like Senator Mcainto him this sounds like socialism from one of your great Presidents!
    'I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our
    liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks
    and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all
    property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers
    conquered.'> > Thomas Jefferson 1802> >

    October 31, 2008 at 6:26 pm |
  3. Roxanna Roman

    I know many successful Arab/Muslim women who were inspired by Oprah growing up..

    We all love Oprah!!

    October 31, 2008 at 4:36 pm |
  4. Mary V., Salt Lake City, UT

    Oh brother! Of course, Arabians like Oprah........so do Europeans!

    Remember our National debt of $10 TRILLION? We owe the money to:

    China............Saudi Arabia.........and Dubai. So we need to be nice to these people.

    Remember watching Bush kiss the Arabs on both cheeks? And walk around holding hands with the Saudis? Yep, our president kissing and holding hands with the leaders of Saudi Arabia whose nationals were the terrorists who attack our Nation on 9/11. More Republican hypocrisy.

    October 31, 2008 at 3:06 pm |
  5. Susan

    Maybe President Obama should create a new embassador position – embassador to women's issue, and name Oprah, for she is already doing that in Africa with her school and imagine what she could do as embassador to women's issues in the Arab/Muslim world! But that again, the last thing we need is a fatwa, ala Salman Rushdie, on Oprah... so nevermind!

    October 31, 2008 at 2:41 pm |
  6. Max

    Oprah seems like someone WHO CARES, researches STUFF, goes out of her WAY to make a DIFFERENCE and she likes to EMPOWER others ...

    PLUS she isn't sleazy ...

    WHAT a concept!!!!

    October 31, 2008 at 2:37 pm |