What makes patrons in Baghdad’s cafes stop, stare and change the channel, even during a big football match? The local weather report. But it’s not the weather that’s interesting. It’s a new generation of tightly-clad, glamorously-attired, “erotic” weather presenters.
All of a sudden, the busy café in Athamiyah, a suburb of Baghdad, was quiet. Even the noise of dominoes being thrown on tables faded away. All the men in the café – because Baghdad’s cafes are mostly masculine domains – were staring at the television, watching the weather report on Al Baghdadiyah, a satellite television channel.
Yes, the weather report. But nobody really cared about the weather or about what the weather presenter was saying. Instead they stared at the young Egyptian woman talking about sunshine in Iraq – her name is Angie Alaa and she is rapidly becoming one of Iraq’s best known television stars, among both men and women.
“I didn’t use to watch Al Baghdadiyah at all,” says one café patron, university student Ibrahim al-Sameraei, who’s in his early 20s. “But after I saw this presenter, I started to watch every day – especially the weather forecast.”
Al-Sameraei was happy to display video clips of Alaa presenting weather that he keeps on his phone; his screen saver is a trademark picture of Alaa, in which she wears a red and white bandanna.
When presenting tomorrow’s temperatures, Alaa wears her long black hair loose and in many different styles. Her make-up is always relatively bold and the way she moves while presenting the weather is considered erotic by many. Much of this is considered relatively controversial in a comparatively conservative society – and some say that’s why so many young Iraqis like this weather girl so much.
In the café, one of the young men watching commented that Alaa was really the only attractive thing on local TV. His friend said the weather should be extended. And another of their companions suggested that really Alaa was not presenting the weather but showing off the latest fashions.
Apparently Al Baghdadiyah is more than appreciative of their rising star. “The management of the channel is very happy with her success with the weather forecast,” said a channel spokesperson, who preferred not to be named. “They get a lot of viewers then, especially when compared to other shows, and they also like that the clips are then shown on YouTube again.”
In fact, the spokesperson said, the male staff at the channel in Baghdad and in Cairo also regularly commented on their colleague’s performance and appearance. And it seems clear that in the new battle for ratings and for advertisers among Middle Eastern satellite channels, the idea of modest or male weather presenters has become outdated.