The Arab Apprentice: Islamic Broadcasting Meets Reality TV
September 12, 2011
The line between politics and religion in the Middle East is growing blurrier, and the easiest way to see this is on television. In years gone by, mainstream preachers studiously avoided talking openly about politics. The traditional mode was to dispense wisdom about orthodox practice to an adoring audience.
In more recent years, preachers have created new formats that draw from reality television. One of the innovators is Amr Khaled, a young Egyptian preacher with limited formal religious training and an appealing smile. Last winter, he hosted a reality TV show entitled “Mujaddidun,” or “Renewers.” The show mimicked the American reality show “The Apprentice,” but instead of competing to make the most money, the contestants worked to make the largest positive impact in their communities. They worked on gradually shrinking teams as they struggled to refine their ideas and make a difference.
In today’s Egypt, the politics are fluid, and young people like Khaled’s cast members played a large role making it so. And so, Khaled’s role is changing.
Khaled is reportedly applying his organizational skills to the creation of a political party, in alliance with some dissident factions of the Muslim Brotherhood. He appeared on state television just before Ramadan interviewing major political personalities such as Mohammed al-Baradei. His move into politics is still tentative, but it is not subtle, and he is not alone. The blending of religion, television and politics, long powerful in the United States, may have a long future ahead of it in Egypt.
This piece is a part of Mezze, a monthly short article series spotlighting societal trends across the region. It originally appeared in the Middle East Program's monthly newsletter, Middle East Notes and Comment. For more information and to receive our mailings, please contact the Middle East Program.