A Kiss Is Not Just a Kiss to an Angry Arab TV Audience
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
Published: March 5, 2004
BEIRUT, Lebanon, March 4 â€” Abdel Hakim, a strapping young Saudi, kissed Kawthar, a raven-haired Tunisian beauty, and all hell broke loose.
The kiss happened during the first few minutes of the Middle Eastern version of "Big Brother," the latest entry in the phenomenon of importing the Western concept of reality television to the Arab world.
In conservative Bahrain, the Persian Gulf island where the show was filmed, a social kiss on the cheek between a young man and a young woman meeting for the first time suggested rampant moral depravity. They might as well have had sex.
Bahrain is viewed by many as the "Nightclub of the Gulf," rife with alcohol and prostitution because so many of its neighbors â€” including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait â€” ban liquor. But that nightlife, explained Sheik al-Mawda, generally takes place behind closed doors.
"When you are at your house, you can do what you like and nobody should look through the keyhole," he said, noting that the Prophet Muhammad once declared that you could use a needle to poke out the eye of anyone who tried.