All Turkish TV shows taken off air by Saudi broadcaster MBC

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Cast of Magnificent Century

The Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC) has said it received instructions to remove all Turkish programming from all of its channels until further notice, according to The National, an English-language newspaper based in Abu Dhabi.

The sudden removal of popular Turkish dramas from MBC, headquartered in Dubai, over the past few days is set to continue for the foreseeable future, The National said on Monday.

MBC confirmed to The National that it received instructions to remove all Turkish programming from all of its channels, including Egypt’s MBC MASR, until further notice.

MBC Group spokesman Mazen Hayek would not comment on who was behind the decision or whether it came from inside or outside the company.

“There is a decision that concerns several media outlets in many Arab countries that Turkish dramas are to be taken off air, including MBC,” Hayek said. “That was from 1 am Saudi Arabian time on March 2.”

The decision has affected six shows, including the new crime drama “Al Dakheel,” which is now paused in its fifth episode, while fans of the period drama “Anta Watani” (You Are My Nation) will be frustrated with the show stuck at the 84th episode.

While Hayek would not comment on the other channels affected, the directive does not seem to apply to Dubai TV which, according to its published schedule online, continues to screen the drama “Sultana Kösem” at 9 p.m., five days a week.

The online streaming service Netflix is also showing almost 20 Turkish programs, including the 2011 historical drama “The Magnificent Century” and the 2009 espionage thriller and Gulf smash hit “Ezel.”

“Ezel” was so popular in the region during its initial screening that the show’s cast flew to Dubai for a meet and greet with their fans in 2011.

Turkish dramas have been gaining a foothold in the Arab world for more than a decade.

Dubbed in Arabic, the programs have pipped traditional leaders Egypt and Syria (the former due to poor scripts and the latter because of the present conflict crippling the Syrian TV industry) with their multifaceted storylines, high production values and serene landscapes.

Their controversially liberal take on relationships also resulted in 2008’s “Noor” becoming a runaway hit in the region. The show’s final episode, airing on MBC, reportedly had 80 million viewers from the Arabian Gulf to Morocco.

The landmark success of “Noor” ushered a seemingly endless wave of Turkish drama, ranging from the melodramatic “What Is Left of Love?” and “Innocent Dreams” to grittier offerings including “Yesterday’s Scent” and “Ezel.”

“We are a country both very close to Arabic countries and very far way,” “Ezel” co-creator Kerem Deren told The National in 2011.

“And because of that, I think there is a fantasy to it. When I spoke to fans in Abu Dhabi, a lot of them said the same thing: that they loved it straight away but at the same time the show is a little bit strange for them.”

Hayek says the decision could result in some positives for the regional television industry.

“It could be an opportunity for all of us to produce premium Arabic dramas with more quality,” he said.

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