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Bedouinity on Stage. The Rise of The Bedouin Soap Opera (Musalsal Badawi) in Arab Television

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Despite a growing research interest in studies focusing on the modern media in the Arab world, including the field of the Middle Eastern film and television industries, there is one particular type of TV series that has been largely neglected by contemporary scholarship, though the serials in question are among the most popular formats throughout the entire Arab world: we are talking about the Bedouin soap operas usually designated as musalsal badawi or drama badawiyya which have been broadcast continuously since the 1970s onwards. This paper gives a first overview of the genre of Bedouin soap operas by discussing the perspectives both of the producers and of different categories of viewers. To this end the article unfolds with a historical outline of the rise of the Bedouin musalsalat within the Arab film industries, particularly by focusing on the transition from the national to the transnational contextualisation of contemporary Bedouin TV serials. Then the focus turns to the production processes of the soap operas by taking into account the various perspectives of the financiers, producers, script writers, directors and Bedouin advisors. Attention is also given to the different motivations of viewers for following such series, as well as to the exemplary plotlines on which the Bedouin soap operas are usually predicated.

Moreover, the paper explores to what extent the musalsalat have become markers of tribal identity and memory, thereby mirroring competing perspectives on 'authenticity' and historical 'truth'. Finally, the Bedouin soap operas are contextualised within the overarching discourse on the revival of cultural heritage that is increasingly gaining prominence in many countries of the Arab world.
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Keywords: Bedouin; Heritage; Jordan; Soap Opera; Syria; TV series; UAE

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2014

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  • Nomadic Peoples is an international journal published by the White Horse Press for the Commission on Nomadic Peoples, International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences. Its primary concerns are the current circumstances of all nomadic peoples around the world and their prospects. Its readership includes all those interested in nomadic peoples, scholars, researchers, planners and project administrators.
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