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Exploded Egypt has escaped to my Bosporus*

Published in Broken English Magazine in 2011.


111 minutes, Historical Drama

Two brothers separated and grown apart… Only to be reunited years later as strangers… Strangers who only recognize each other from films they’ve watched…  

This synopsis may contain spoiler!


Identifying ‘Modernization’ with ‘Westernization’ as a total project aiming at embracing and internalizing all the cultural dimensions that made Europe ‘modern’, Turkish modernizers have made many reforms starting from 1920s. Run toward changing the Ottoman institutions and reshaping the physical environment in order to make it more similar to that of their European counterparts the reforms has been applied as a top-down process. Followed by the dismissal of Oriental Music Department in 1926, the ban of oriental Turkish music from the radio in 30s could be counted as one of these attempts to exclude the oriental influence on the Turkish society.  

After the ban became applicable, people who wouldn’t enjoy Western music played in radio would simply tune their radios to Radio Egypt. It coincides with the same period when the Egyptian films gaining popularity in Turkey. The Egyptian film shot in 1936, Damüa’l-Hubb [The Tears of Love], was first screened in Istanbul in 1938. The viewers mesmerized by its histrionic songs performed by the actor Abdülvahab were finally able to identify themselves with the protagonists’ culture, especially because of the language they were not allowed to speak and the clothes they were not able to wear anymore. Making a big hit at the box office, the film paved the way for more Egyptian films played at the Turkish movie theaters.

Between 1936 and 1948, 1,130 films were screened in Turkey. Accompanied by the abundant release of Egyptian music records, the popularity of Egyptian films increased rapidly. Disturbed by the interest in Egyptian music and films, a modernist Turkish journalist wrote in 1941 in his column: “I do not want to hear that old Turkish music is being considered as the brother of Arab music. They might be brothers but surely not twins; two brothers who doesn’t resemble each other.’’ Shorty after, the single party in the parliament imposed a ban in the early 40s about Egyptian films. In the statement made by the Turkish Ministry of Interior Affairs there was a condition required: the films could be only screened in Turkish language, including the songs that are part of the scenes.  

However, the censorship wasn’t enough to make the fans of Egyptian film give up and start enjoying Western films and music. Dubbing the dialogues could be a solution, but how about the songs that occupied more than half of the films? Shortly after, the answer was found: adaptation. Turkish musicians started to re-compose the music by slightly reducing the oriental rhythms and writing Turkish lyrics to substitute Arabic songs. In the scenes where famous Egyptian actresses like Leila Mourad or Umm Kulthum appeared to sing, Müzeyyen Senar or Safiye Ayla would start singing the adapted version in Turkish.

Turkish composers had to produce large quantities of arraignment to feed the massive demand. Due to the speed of this process, a new Turkish national music blossomed unselfconsciously.

Even though Turkified versions of the films have succeed to pass the ‘nationality’ exam by the authorities, in 1946, the government found another excuse to ban Egyptian films: the harm/recession they made on Turkish national film industry. Along with the new ban, Turkish filmmakers were encouraged to produce films highly influenced by their Egyptian ancestors: Turkish musical melodramas. After 50s, Egyptian films have been swept from the movie theatres by their Turkish imitations.

The brothers didn’t see each other for 50 years and when they reunited in 2000s they realized that they’ve slightly grown apart.

After the boom of Turkish soap operas in the 2000s, the series started to be exported all over the world including the Middle East, creating a quiet revolution. In Damascus, Cairo and Riyadh, 80 million people tune in for a single episode of Gümüş (Noor in Arabic). The series depict an idealized Muslim and secular country, an imaginary version of modern Turkey. Gümüş has been daring and candid when it comes to gender equality, alcohol, premarital sex, infidelity, passionate love, and even children born out of wedlock. Despite the reorganization and the censorship of the series, several remaining aspects were seen as contrary to Islamic principles. In June 2008, Saudi sheikh Salman al A’awada, host of a religious program on MBC, advised the “owner of MBC to revise and censor Noor episodes.” Syrian sheikh Hamdi Kanjo Al Makzoumi declared that praying in T-shirts featuring any of the Turkish actresses was haram, calling them “non-veiled and decadent, promoting vice and decadence in places of worship.”

One of the most notorious controversy regarding Turkish series was the virulent objections of an Imam in a wealthy district of Cairo in 2008. A group of women wearing t-shirts with the picture of the leading actor of Noor  led a protest against the fetwas of Imam. To discontinue broadcastings was thus prevented.

Turkey and Egypt might not be twins as the Turkish journalist wrote in 1941, but brothers indeed: brothers who believe that their parents don’t treat them equally.


* The sentence is the literal translation of ‘Pop-corn got stuck in my throat’ [Boğazıma mısır kaçtı.] into English. ‘Corn’ and ‘Egypt’ are the same words in Turkish like ‘Throat’ and ‘Bosporus’.