Turkish TV series on the 16th-century Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent conquers Arab world and Balkans. From the Arab world to the Balkans, the story of the sultan’s harem and his romance with a Slav beauty has captivated nations that suffered under Ottomon domination.
“This series is a real phenomenon,” said Khulud Abu Hommos, executive vice president of the OSN network.
“The Magnificent Century” or “The Sultan’s Harem” in its dubbed Arabic version, tells the tale of Suleiman and Roxelana, against a background of palace intrigue at the peak of Ottoman power. A sumptuous costume drama, more than 300 episodes have been aired so far in what Abu Hommos told AFP was “the highest ever watched drama show on OSN,” though she declined to give figures.
“It is also a kind of fairy tale, mixing romance with history,” she said, but “it has political relevance.
“In the Arab world where people are frustrated with the political situation, it gives them pride in Muslim history, it portrays Muslim leaders as just and fair.” As for Michel Naufal, an expert on Arab-Turkish relations, fascination with the Turkish series is the result of “a sort of reconciliation with the past.” The story of a slave girl, conquering the heart of one of the empire’s most famous sultans, of their marriage and a son lining up as successor, has held Arab audiences spellbound for more than two years.
The elaborate sets and costumes have swept the fashion world in Arab countries.
“Women are buying apparel like those of actresses in the series and asking me to imitate their hairstyles,” said Maro Dheini who runs a hairdressing salon in Dubai.
But photographs on Facebook of a glitzy Suleiman-themed party attended by families close to President Bashar al-Assad.
Balkan countries struggled for almost 500 years for freedom from the Ottoman empire, only to find themselves glued to television screens for Suleiman the Magnificent’s exploits.
From Albania in the south to Croatia in the north, the series often beats the most popular Western or local shows in the ratings.
Both private and several state-run television stations have broadcast the series, with regular re-runs.
“Viewers can identify with characters, cultural stereotypes… Hundreds of years under Turkish rule mean that we here share similar values,” said film and TV critic Vuk Perovic.