Egypt wants sex talk veiled

'Hala' episode raises ire of public prosecutor

Leading Egyptian TV presenter Hala Sarhan has found herself in hot water following allegations that actresses posed as prostitutes on her popular chat show “Hala.”

Broadcast on pan-Arab satcaster Rotana Cinema, which is owned by Saudi Prince Al Waleed bin Talal, the taboo-busting episode has raised the ire of Egypt’s public prosecutor, rival Egyptian satcasters and the three girls in question.

Only hours after their initial interview was aired, the three girls — who had been promised their identities would be concealed on Sarhan’s show only to discover viewers could hear their real voices — appeared on rival private Egyptian channel Al Mehwar to say they were actually actresses.

Since then, Al Mehwar has led a daily campaign attacking Sarhan. Egypt’s public prosecutor has ordered a judiciary investigation of the issue and seized tapes of the show in question.

The three girls have also launched a lawsuit against Sarhan, accusing her of defamation of character and seeking $17 million in compensation. One girl claims her fiance dumped her in the wake of her appearance.

 While Sarhan has denied the charges against her, execs at Rotana are staying tight-lipped.

“Things aren’t clear. There are conflicting reports from Egypt and we’d rather not say anything other than Dr. Sarhan has our 100% support,” says Rotana spokesman Abdullatif Chalabi.

Sarhan was scheduled to explain all on Lebanese satcaster LBCi, co-owned by bin Talal, before canceling at the last minute on the advice of her lawyers.

“This is a big deal in Egypt,” says LBC chief exec Pierre Daher. “First, there’s the question of whether it’s ethical to pay someone to say something on TV. Second, they’re tackling a taboo subject. Third, there’s the increasing competition between the private TV channels in Egypt, which is fueling this scandal. And finally, it seems as if the government is stepping in to reassert its control about what kind of subjects can be talked about on TV.”

Prostitution, and sexuality in general, remains a sensitive subject in Egypt. With the increase in private satcasters such as Dream, Al Mehwar and Rotana leading to greater competition for racy content to attract local auds, the Sarhan episode could become a test case for what is and isn’t acceptable fare.

Al Mehwar recently launched its own provocative chatshow, “The Big Talk” fronted by Heba Kotb, which offers auds advice on all matters sexual. Kotb, who wrote her thesis at Florida’s Maimonides U. on sexuality in Islam, has been preaching, among other things, about the joys of foreplay and intermarital relations.

The satcaster’s vehement campaign against Sarhan has been seen by some as an attempt to knock back its competitor at the expense of its own rising star.