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Its four hosts include a Palestinian actress, a Lebanese TV veteran--their blue-jeaned, blowdried sleekness straight off Madison Avenue--and a maternal Egyptian self-help columnist, a sort of Muslim Dear Abby. " Abu Sulayman says enthusiastically, smiling at Kalam Nawaem's first guest, actress Hala Shiha.
Only one host--Muna Abu Sulayman, a Saudi Arabian working on a Ph. in American literature--is veiled, her shimmering hijab the shade of moonbeams. Known for her sexy film roles and scanty outfits, the young Egyptian star stunned her followers by recently deciding to wear the veil.
Cultural horizons are being stretched--well beyond the comfort zones of some Arab conservatives.
Until about a decade ago, Arab television was a seriously staid affair: state-owned channels with stiff presenters reading government-approved cue cards.
More than half of Arab women are illiterate, meaning TV, rather than books or newspapers, serves as their window on the wider world."I'm really at peace--wearing the hijab gives me true power," Shiha says, her head swathed in a bright orange polka-dot scarf pushed back to expose her amber eyes.The audience's women--most with carefully coiffed manes, some in shoulder-baring halter tops--applaud wildly.It's soft daytime stuff, to be sure, but Kalam Nawaem, like a lot of new Arab shows available via satellite TV, is pushing its society to think in provocative, fresh ways. In the past three years, Arab satellite-TV viewers have more than doubled.Today, about 80 percent of the Middle East's population is watching, according to Arab Advisors Group, a market research company.