Homer becomes Omar for Arab makeover of Simpsons

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The Independent Online

But in order not to risk offending an Arab audience, the characters in Al Shamshoon, as the show is now called, have modified some of their most distinguishable traits.

Omar may look the same as in the series that debuted in 1987, but he has swapped Duff beer for soft drinks; no longer hangs out at "seedy bars with bums and lowlifes" - Moe no longer owns a bar - and eats barbequed Egyptian beef sausages instead of non-Halal hotdogs. He even grazes on Arab kahk cookies in place of doughnuts.

The dysfunctional family, that continues to live in Springfield, have not wholly reformed. Omar is still lazy and Badr continues to bate his teachers and parents.

The adaptation, which began in time for Ramadam when television viewing figures peak, uses the original Simpsons animation. High profile Egyptian actors, including Mohamed Heneidy, are providing the character's voices.

With a primetime slot, Arab satellite channel MBC hopes the show, which has run for 17 seasons and won 12 Emmy awards in America, will be the first in a succession of similar adaptations.

Michel Costandi, business-development director of MBC TV Network, said: "I think The Simpsons will open new horizons for us to the future. We are opening up a new genre of programming in the Middle East."

Suppliers of Arabic-dubbed Western cartoons say demand had been high for years, with the Walt Disney Co. dubbing countless animations. With 60 per cent of the population in the Arab world under the age of 20, and 40 per cent under 15, the market is likely to expand.

Sherine El-Hakim, head of Arabic content at VSI Ltd, a London-based company that dubs and subtitles TV shows for broadcasters and corporations said: "The advent of the satellite era in the Arab world has created - and is still creating - new channels on a continuous basis.

"Arabisation is going to boom in these next few years," she told the Wall Street Journal. "We're such an impressionable people and we aspire so much to be like the West, that we take on anything that we believe is a symbol or a manifestation of Western culture."

But there are fears the show has lost its quintessential Simpson-ness. Some Arab Simpson fans are incensed over the adaptation. "This is just beyond the pale," wrote As'ad AbuKhalil, a professor at California State University, Stanislaus, on his blog, angryarab blogspot.

After watching a segment of Al Shamshoon, Professor AbuKhalil said: "It was just painful ... The guy who played Homer was one of the most unfunny people I ever watched. Just drop it."

Even more damning was the response of Al Jean, executive producer of The Simpsons. He said: "If Homer doesn't drink and eat bacon and generally act like a pig, which I guess is also against Islam, then it's not Homer."