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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 February, 2004, 15:42 GMT
Big Brother comes to Arab world
By Julia Wheeler
BBC correspondent in the Gulf

Big Brother Africa
Big Brother Africa was praised for bridging cultural gaps
The Arabic version of the Big Brother reality television programme has started, with a prize of $100,000 for the winner.

The show being broadcast across the Arab world by MBC follows the highly successful format estimated to have been watched by two billion viewers around the globe since its beginnings five years ago.

Big Brother has come to the Arabian peninsula - in particular, to a purpose-built house on Amwaj Island in Bahrain.

Twelve housemates from around the Arab world have been spending their first few hours in the Big Brother house under the constant gaze of television cameras.

They include Abdul Hakim from Saudi Arabia, a larger than life character who likes to wear his sunglasses at night.

Bashara from Lebanon has brought 20 pairs of trousers with him to the house.

There is also Michael, a salsa-dancing Jordanian jeweller, an actress from Bahrain, a musician from Iraq and a karate teacher from Kuwait.

Prayer room

In the first programme only one of the female contestants was wearing the traditional black robe or abaya.

The house has been modified to reflect Arabic customs.

For the first time since the show's inception there are segregated sleeping quarters for men and women.

Europe: Netherlands, UK, Belgium, Spain, Denmark, Norway, France, Germany
Americas: US and Argentina
Asia-Pacific: Australia
Africa: South Africa
Middle East: Bahrain
There is also a prayer room.

There is a separate women's lounge with a mixed-sex communal area as well.

Otherwise the rules follow the international format for which the show has become both loved and loathed.

It is to be broadcast nightly with weekly evictions voted for by housemates and viewers.

It is too early to say who the public will warm to, but the organisers are sure this version of Big Brother has the potential to create stars just as its predecessors have around the world.

The BBC's Madeleine Holt
"An audacious start to Big Brother Middle East"

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