‘Real Housewives’ franchise takes its drama to flashy Dubai

May 29, 2022, 11:06 AM | Updated: 11:10 pm
Sara Al Madani, an Emirati serial entrepreneur, talks during an interview with the Associated Press...

Sara Al Madani, an Emirati serial entrepreneur, talks during an interview with the Associated Press at her house, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Wednesday, May 25, 2022. The world famous reality-show empire "Real Housewives" is coming to the flashy city-state of Dubai for the franchise's first international series premiering this week. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

(AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The camera pans across a vast expanse of desert before careening toward an artificial island lined with luxury homes in the Persian Gulf. Eerie chords ring out, as though warning viewers: This is not your “Real Housewives of Orange County.”

For the first time in its 16-year history, the American franchise that has become an institution of reality television will take its glamor and soap opera abroad — specifically, to the skyscraper-studded sheikhdom of Dubai. While the franchise has sold countless global spinoffs from Lagos to Vancouver, none have been produced by the Bravo network before.

“The Real Housewives of Dubai” debuts on Wednesday, inducting six new women into network’s crown jewel of catfights and marital meltdowns that is beloved, binged and hate-watched around the world.

Dubai might be some 13,000 kilometers (8,000 miles) away from the California gated community where the reality-show empire premiered in 2006, which a cameo by camels in the series’ teaser makes clear.

But as Dubai’s “housewives” gossip over lavish lunches, bicker while sipping from stem glasses and arrive at casual gatherings engulfed in designer logos, it turns out they’re not so far from Orange County after all.

That’s a message the women want to convey. Cast members say showing off their extravagant, party-hard lives on screen debunks stereotypes about the United Arab Emirates, a Gulf Arab federation where Islam is the official religion.

“This is an opportunity for me to show the Western world, or the world in general, how a modern Arab woman can be,” Sara Al Madani, a serial entrepreneur and single mom, told The Associated Press from her quirky villa adorned with portraits of her favorite non-fungible tokens and a room full of trophies commemorating her career.

Instead of the traditional black abaya, Al Madani sported a wide-brimmed suede hat. With a nose ring, tongue piercing and arm tattoo that reads “Rebel,” she was the first to admit: “I’m not your typical Arab or Emirati.”

Al Madani is the only Emirati cast member — a ratio that comes as no surprise in a country where expatriates outnumber locals nearly nine to one.

The other “housewives” found Dubai’s glitz from far afield. Caroline Stanbury, a reality star who stirred up drama in Bravo’s “Ladies of London” series moved to Dubai with her kids after getting divorced and remarrying a former soccer player.

Caroline Brooks, an Afro-Latina businesswoman from Massachusetts, rose to success in Dubai’s cutthroat real estate industry. “It’s very expensive to cheat on me,” she tells viewers in the trailer. “Ask my exes.”

Nina Ali, an ultra-glam Lebanese mother of three, founded Fruit Cake, a fruitcake business. Lesa Hall, a Jamaican designer of luxury maternity clothes and former beauty queen, recently posted on Instagram an ice-cream cone — with a 24-karat-gold-leaf on top.

Chanel Ayan, a breezy Kenyan-born model who overcame prejudices in the UAE to walk for top-tier European fashion houses, is now developing a makeup line. She described herself in an interview with the AP as “outgoing, funny, crazy and insanely hot.”

Like American stars of the franchise, the women in Dubai are not housewives in the traditional sense but rather socialite business owners trying to define their brands. And Dubai, a city ceaselessly trying to market itself on the world stage, provides a fitting backdrop.

With zero income taxes, gleaming skyscrapers and countless malls, the emirate was engineered to be a global destination for the ultra-wealthy. Fortune-seekers, rich and poor, flock to Dubai from around the world, including migrant laborers from South Asia, Africa and the Philippines who work long hours for low pay. The franchise, however, takes as its focus just a tiny subset of wealthy womanhood.

The cast members described Dubai as a Westernized playground where women are free to have fun and do what they want.

“You have glitz, you have glamor, you have fashion,” Stanbury said, cradling her black Pomeranian named Taz against her sequined Prada crop top. On her coffee table was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Beautiful and Damned.”

“You don’t understand how much it’s worth to live in a country like this,” she added.

But in the UAE, women are legally obligated to obey their husbands under the nation’s Islamic law. Despite major legal changes, cursing, drinking and kissing in public can still land you in trouble. Homosexuality remains forbidden, as does crossdressing. Authorities stamp out hints of political dissent.

Executives insisted that the UAE’s traditional values and speech restrictions, which had long hampered the oil-rich country’s efforts to become a regional entertainment hub, did not hold the housewives back.

Fans can still expect alcohol-soaked gatherings and dramatic confrontations, said Sezin Cavusoglu, the Bravo executive in charge of the series. But there will be no drink-throwing, table-flipping, hair-pulling or otherwise ostentatious fighting in public.

“They live there. They know what’s acceptable, and what’s not acceptable,” Cavusoglu said. “They still gave us amazing content just by being who they are and having really honest and difficult conversations.”

Dubai’s government-run media office did not respond to AP requests for comment. Dubai’s Tourism Board and Film Commission approved the series and facilitated its production.

That’s already a stark shift from over a decade ago, when the Dubai government cited moral concerns in rejecting the producers of the “Sex and the City” movie sequel.

Not everyone in the UAE is glad of the “Real Housewives” limelight. Aghast at the foul-mouthed, bikini-clad women in the trailer, Emirati social media influencer Majid Alamry lambasted the series on Instagram last week.

“We are a tolerant country, but that does not mean that others can walk all over our morals,” he said in a viral clip. Local media also profiled more-down-to-earth homemakers in the UAE who were “demanding a more accurate representation.”

But the reality franchise always was escapist fare, cast and executives say, split off from the reality of ordinary viewers.

“It’s meant to be just entertainment,” Stanbury said from her pristine kitchen, where on a clear day she can see elephants stalking a nature preserve and the world’s tallest tower rising over the desert. “You guys get insight into all of our crazy lives.”

___

Follow Isabel DeBre on Twitter at www.twitter.com/isabeldebre.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - The NASA moon rocket stands on Pad 39B before a launch attempt for the Artemis 1 mission to ...
Associated Press

NASA delays moon rocket launch due to potential hurricane

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA is skipping next week’s launch attempt of its new moon rocket because of a tropical storm that’s expected to become a major hurricane. It’s the third delay in the past month for the lunar-orbiting test flight featuring mannequins but no astronauts, a follow-up to NASA’s Apollo moon-landing program of […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Names of victims in suburban Chicago shooting released

OAK FOREST, Ill. (AP) — The names of three people found shot outside a suburban Chicago home and the man believed to have killed them before fatally shooting himself have been released. They were identified Friday by the Cook County medical examiner’s office as Carlos Gomez, 44; Lupe Gomez, 43; Briana Rodriguez, 22; and Emilio […]
1 day ago
FILE - Vice President Kamala Harris displays a map showing abortion access by state as she speaks d...
Associated Press

Abortion is a matter of ‘freedom’ for Biden and Democrats

WASHINGTON (AP) — The way President Joe Biden sees it, the overturning of Roe vs. Wade was not just about whether a woman has a right to obtain an abortion. “It’s about freedom,” Biden said at a private fundraiser in New York this past week. Vice President Kamala Harris takes an even bolder approach when […]
1 day ago
Survivor Zhu Pingfan, 41, from Hunan province, China, recuperates in a hospital bed, Saturday, Sept...
Associated Press

Chinese survivors had no food, water on sinking boat

SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia (AP) — Chinese survivors from a boat that sank near a Cambodian island, killing three people and leaving eight missing, said they embarked on what they believed would be a short-term fishing job and ended up without food and water aboard the vessel and their belongings taken away. Cambodian authorities said Friday they […]
1 day ago
Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General...
Associated Press

Live updates: U.N. General Assembly

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Latest on the U.N. General Assembly: Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Friday said she wanted an immediate end to the war in Ukraine, as well as the related sanctions, for the sake of lives and livelihoods of the people across the world. “Due to sanctions, and counter-sanctions, not a […]
1 day ago
FILE - Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, center, speaks during a rally outside the White...
Associated Press

‘Fighting fit’: Trial to show Oath Keepers’ road to Jan. 6

The voting was over and almost all ballots were counted. News outlets on Nov. 7, 2020, had called the presidential race for Joe Biden. But the leader of the Oath Keepers extremist group was just beginning to fight. Convinced the White House had been stolen from Donald Trump, Stewart Rhodes exhorted his followers to action. […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
‘Real Housewives’ franchise takes its drama to flashy Dubai