Image Censorship for the Middle East Market

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Image and Video Censorship for the Middle East Market

Images & videos for advertising & marketing purposes in the Middle East countries differ from that of the rest of the world. Since most of the nations of the Middle East practice Islamic rules and regulations, they do not like damage to the image of a woman, let alone exposing major parts of her body.

The Middle East authorities prohibit over-exposed or semi-nude models and also prohibit the use of pork, drugs, and alcoholic images for promotional activities. As a business owner or a brand promoter, if you want to promote your products, you should know what to veil and what not to for a specific market. You must know about image and product censorship adopted by those countries.

In the Middle East, image censorship varies from country to country. Some countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran follow strict image guidelines based on Islamic tradition; most countries maintain moderate censorship; but there also come counties that are liberal like any western country.

An Overview

Exposure of both male and female bodies aren’t allowed in the Middle East market. You might know that the female models are highly censored than male models. But, in some liberal countries like Israel, Lebanon, and Turkey you can use bikini models. But, most countries are moderate that allow some level of the unveiling of some body parts of a female model. However, some strict countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia don’t allow too much exposure of female models.

Here’s the list of Liberal, Moderate and Strict Countries in the Middle East in terms of exposing body parts of a female model:

Liberal Countries Moderate Countries Strict Countries
Israel, Lebanon, Turkey Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Yemen, Egypt, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria
Allows bikini models. Allows some exposure of female body parts. Restrict exposure of most body parts of female models.

 

Map

You might have guessed that red colors indicate stricter countries. But let’s reverse it a little bit (green = allowed in almost all countries and red = not allowed in most of the countries) and let’s see which body parts of a female model ok, semi-ok, and not ok in the Middle East market:

Liberal Countries

Lebanon, Israel, and Turkey are the liberal countries in the Middle East. Liberal Countries are those that do not censor much of the female model’s body parts. But they do have their own censorship. Let’s talk a bit about their own censorship.

Lebanon

Lebanon has a lot of composed Lebanese censorship rules. The people of the country celebrate multiple cultures, customs, and traditions. The majority of them are Muslim, but the number is not that huge of the other Middle Eastern countries. Though the censorship rules are taken as per Islamic tradition, they are not imposed rigidly. For advertising and modeling, Lebanese authority shows a liberal mindset.

Lebanese sea-beaches crowed with local and international tourists. You will see here two types of beaches- private and open. Global and local tourists are allowed in open beaches and for Muslim beachgoer women, private beaches or pools arranged. Muslim women wear burkini as a swimsuit. In open beaches, foreign tourists including women are allowed with a single piece or two pieces of bikinis. There is a controversy of using bikini and burkini as swimsuit among the Lebanese citizens.

Female models with short dresses for marketing and advertisement are not actually prohibited. If you search in Google, you will get hundreds of beautiful Lebanese models with bikini, burkini, single-piece bikini, 2 pieces bikini, etc. In the country, the advertisers use model images in the banner, poster, billboard, giant screen, and so many places without any rigid obligations. Lebanese girls participate in the miss world competitions and they become later the appealing models and actresses.

As per the Lebanese censorship rules, product related to sexuality is prohibited to display and sell. The advertizing of the taboo products with female model images that go against morals is also restricted. Though daily newspapers, magazines, and any other publications may not publish any writing or images deemed unethical, this prohibition is interpreted as including sexual services that are forbidden under Lebanese laws. There is no clear restriction on selling and advertising alcoholic products. In using female models with bikini and a short dress for advertising and packaging, the authority is liberal though they have strict censorship rules in written form.

Israel

Most people think that Israel is alien to Arabs. But, they don’t know that most Israelis can fluently talk Arabic and follow Arabic cultures. If you step into their cultures, you might find them not so different than the Arabs. However, culturally they are more liberal than their neighbors.

In Israel, you can see women used widely and frequently in the marketing and advertising industry. They are from different types of modeling that include- fashion, glamour, fitness, bikini, burkini, fine art, body-part, promotional, and commercial print. Models are featured in a variety of media formats including- books, magazines, films, newspapers, billboards, packaging, internet, and television. The female models enjoy full freedom to sign a contract with the advertising agencies. Though the country prohibits the promotion and sexual items and sex as a service, but online pornography is legal here. Nevertheless, underweight models are banned by Israeli law. To secure a modeling job, a model must be certified by the doctor, that she is in good health.

Turkey

For being one of the EU members, Turkey is gradually trying to cope with European culture, But, its Islamic roots are also prevalent. If you walk along the streets of Istanbul, you’ll find both liberal European and moderate Islamic cultures. It is one of the countries that have liberal censorship for advertising and promotion of female models.  But, they do strictly follow some censorship rules. They don’t allow anything that goes against their cultural, moral, political, and religious value. In 2019, they banned animated series “Tales of Arcadia” since there is an episode of two female characters kissing. Turkey’s authority deems it as a scandal and an LGBTQ lobby. All the images, videos, and other visual contents that seem to promote sensuality and homosexuality among the Turkish people are prohibited.

The publishers, advertisers, internet community, broadcasters, bloggers, and many others related to the same field are under strong censorship rules. The uses of commercial images and videos for product publishing must be modest enough and pass the censorship rules. The Turkish authority has prohibited the images or videos for advertising and marketing of alcohol, drugs, tobacco, bold or nude model images and more.

Turkey has censored many other images and videos that are involved with gory violence, insulting people or organizations, president, Turkish nation, propaganda, terrifying, adultery, unacceptable manner or behavior, etc.

Moderate Censorship

In the Middle East, most countries are moderate in the question of censorship. Alongside some others who practice image or video censorship strictly, moderate countries are applying laws with less aggressiveness. They have rigid censorship rules, but coming with the western culture, they embrace some of the western items related to advertising, marketing, sponsorship, fashion and modeling, and the like. Let’s have a look at those moderate countries’ censorship.

Egypt

Like other Middle Eastern countries, Egypt has also imposed some censorship laws on the publishing and advertising companies. Whatever they want to do for product marketing, they can do until the marketing elements go against the social and religious values of the country.

Egypt does not tolerate the images and videos that are against the Islamic tradition and socio-religious values. Back in 2018 and in 2019, the authority has stopped airing Vodafone’s video ads due to having vulgarity and AL-Mashhad website for talking against the unfair means during the vote.

The present Egypt is a combination of modernity and fundamental religious belief. Since Islam is the leading religion of this country, most of the people support to maintain modesty. Here you will get advertising contents like images and videos that are made as per the Islamic notion. On the other side, there are a lot of images that contain moderate and liberal advertising elements. The women in Egypt are now more liberal than before and so, some marketing images following western tradition are also available.

However, modern Egypt has taken something from western culture, there is still liberal approach dominance over the authority, advertisers, and publishers. The government has strong command on censoring pornographic & sensual elements, images, and videos that contain negative political views, contents that go against the country’s authority, vulgar language, unethical pictures and manners of presenting products, etc.

Iraq

The war-stricken Iraq is passing critical situations. Everything is censored here stiffly. The commercial and advertisement sectors are also in turmoil condition. The usage of marketing elements is limited than before. To use any visual contents like images and videos is rigidly monitored if they go against Islam or government.

As the war is going on, thousands of injurious and blood-shedding images are captured in Iraq. If the images are published without proper censoring, they may spread threatening and negative messages outside. The publishers are facing challenges to express things and news as they are.

The marketing and advertising sectors are also facing a censorship barrier. They cannot use images and other marketing materials as they do in Europe and America. The anti-Islamic photos, sexual & vulgar images, images with harassing texts, overexposed female photos, unethical products, drugs, alcohols, and some other images like these are strictly monitored and censored. So, as product marketers and advertisers, you must comply with the local advertising and publishing rules and regulations.

Kuwait

Kuwait is another Islamic country that has numerous restrictions on advertisers and publishers. If you are a business owner and want to advertise your products in Kuwait, you have to obey the local laws. Being a moderate Islamic country, here you will not face rigidity as you find in Saudi Arabia and Iran.

To use model images for advertising purposes, you should know the Islamic rules and your images must comply with those. The state censors anti-Islamic, extremist-Islamic, and pornographic websites. You should abstain from using female model images wearing short dresses, opening sensual body parts, and anything similar. If your best model images are censored, you can simply edit those in Photoshop to make them suitable for Kuwait.

The authority has imposed laws upon advertising agencies, print media publishers, online media communities, TV stations, and others that work with visual contents. You cannot publish images for advertising prohibited products like drugs, liquor or wine, tobacco, cigarettes, etc. The images that show disrespect to the Emir of Kuwait are also forbidden. Without legal permission from the Health Ministry, it is illegal to visually represent any cosmetic products, weight losing or gaining products, herbal products, nutritional supplements, sexual supplements and/or services, fraud Advertisements, etc.

Qatar

Qatar is now a moderate Islamic country though it is implied. Earlier Qatari authority practiced Islamic rules and regulations strictly. Many non-Islamic customs and traditions were censored under Islamic rules, but now Qatar is more liberated than before.

Qatar now allows women to work and drive cars. There is no religious police at this moment. The bloggers are also independent now. You can buy alcohol and pork, but the promotion of this product are still not legit.

The advertisers and publishers are allowed to move as they do in western culture. You can use any modest images for advertising your products. You can take a lot of marketing steps related to the use of images, videos, and some other marketing elements. They will not be censored rigidly. But, there are still some glams of Islamic traditions.

In 1995, the authority reduced press censorship, but nevertheless, you cannot use imagery offensive to Islam. For example, you cannot use bikini-clad models, overexposed female models, Piglet character, and the like.

UAE

UAE is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the Middle East. It has a massive religious influence. The people Islamic of the county follow customs and traditions. The marketing and advertising sectors are bound in some strict rules and regulations. Here the advertisers and publishers are liable for negative and false information.

The UAE authority has set laws and guidelines against disrespecting the state and Islam. The UAE National Media Council does censor media companies. According to their direction, the advertisements utilizing product images, model images and videos, texts, and other multi-media must not blaspheme Islamic belief, offend the economic system of the state, excite racism, and more. The companies must not advertise for drugs, alcohol, and the like.

Since the country obeys Islamic rules, they enforce some laws from Islam. The businessmen cannot expose Emirati women acutely for advertising their products. The female model here can take part in marketing and advertisement with Hijab and long clothes. UAE is moderate for the overseas female models, but there are also some strict rules for locals. You cannot use semi-nude or bikini models on billboards, posters, banners, etc. Product packaging may have female images but should be less exposed.

Though the marketing and advertising companies in UAE run activities following western structure, but locally they are a bit self-censored. They are concerned to avoid any violation of the state laws. If their marketing elements contain bold materials related to the images and videos taking from western culture, they take image editing, retouching, and video manipulation services to make the existing materials suitable for the country.

Strict Censorship

Some Middle Eastern countries follow image censorship very very strictly. The people of these countries practice Islamic traditions and they try to lead their state and daily activities as per the rules of the religion. Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Syria are the countries that maintain strict censorship.

Iran

Image censorship in the advertising and commercial sectors in Iran is almost the same as Saudi Arabia. Here the advertisers cannot display unethical products that do not go with the rules of Islam. You cannot utilize open & exposed female models like the western countries. So, overexposure is not only taboo, it’s a criminal offense.

In Iran, the female models in TV commercials or display banner, billboard, poster, etc. cannot show off their body parts that excite the opposite sex. They cannot show open hair (veiled is ok), legs, thighs, arms, chest or cleaves, neck, etc. rather they must be covered. The male models also cannot come to the camera bare-bodied. Both the male and female must represent products with maximum modesty.

If you are a businessman and want to enter the Iranian market, you must be concerned about the use of the female model as a representative of your products. Keep in mind the Iranian culture and tradition. Otherwise, your business might be convicted.

Recently Iranian authority has censored citizens’ activities in various social media after some political incidents. In the case of eCommerce businesses, social media marketing, and advertising Iran is open, but you must practice modesty and not go against state rules. So, while making product images for publishing online, avoid the inclination to anything adult or something that goes against religion or politics.

Syria

Advertising in dictator driven Syria is massively censored. The publishers are obstructed to publish the contents that go against national unity and security. The authority bans promoting tobacco products, beer, spirits, and wine. The businessmen cannot even advertise these products on social media websites. The advertising media and presses cannot but practice self-censorship in Syria.

The advertisers and publishers face stiff challenges while promoting their eCommerce products using model images. Like western advertising, here you cannot move freely with your products and models. As the country follow the rules of Islam, the use of almost bare-bodied female images with products is prohibited. So, before presenting products with models, ensure your model images are modest enough and don’t excite sensuality.

The women in Syria are covered with long clothes. They have no right to drive vehicles and go outside wearing short dresses, even without hijab. What the females can show their body parts in advertising images are feet up to the ankles and hands up to the wrists. Though sometimes it is said to keep uncover the faces, mostly the women are forcefully covered their faces. In terms of product promotion, you cannot use female images though they are from other countries. To reduce the time and advertising cost, instead of photo shooting again, you should Photoshop the model images.

However, many other countries such as Jordan, Oman, Palestine, Bahrain, Yemen, etc. are also practicing image censorship for marketing and advertising. Since most of these nations are governed by Islamic customs and traditions, the images and videos used for product advertising must pass through the razor of strict censorship laws. In the Middle East countries, the advertisers cannot use bold female model photos, product photos that are Haram in Islam, unethical and immoral photos, political images, etc. They cannot advertise forbidden products like alcohol, wine, drugs, pork, cigarettes, and the like.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is the leading Islamic country in the Middle East. They follow Islamic tradition and most of their laws and ethics are based on strict religious practices. The government of the country bans some promotional activities utilizing images.

If you use female models for product promotion in Saudi Arabia, the center of Islamic customs and heritage, you must leave the thought of western culture. Your model images must be modest with very less skin and flesh. You cannot use short dresses like the Europeans and the Americans.

Your model can expose hands (not arms), face neck, and toes. Since the Muslim people believe that these body parts don’t excite sensuality, you need not cover your model with clothes. The parts can be kept bare. The current crown prince of Saudi Arabia has lifted some ban and allowed some women rights, which includes loosening the restriction of wearing of veils to cover women’s hair. But, whether you can use local female models with open hair without veil is still debated. You however now can show frontal open part of female hair as long as more than 50% of the hair is veiled. There’s also a restriction to show the eyes of female models that are directly staring at the camera. But, you can see some staring models which are not local.

Your models cannot show arms with half sleeves or sleeveless, underarms, chest under the neck, cleaves, and some other parts like these. You cannot wear tight clothes that expose the shape of the breasts and other sensual body parts. i.e. you cannot show legs, thighs, waist, navel, abdomen, parts of breasts, back, etc. During model photography, your model cannot use skirts, lingerie, and bikini, rather she must be covered with long clothes if you want her with your products in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi authority has strictly censored social media and press. If you want to advertise your product here, you must use very modest product photos with models. You must avoid product images that are sexually, politically, and religiously harassing.

 

[Insert how Monalisa would look like in Saudi Arabian Media]

How to Halalize Photo for the Middle East Market?

Can’t advertise images in the Middle Eastern countries with legal products? Does your product packaging contain overexposed model images? You can use the following Photo Halalization Techniques censoring male and female models in Photoshop.

 

Strategy Before After
Change it value-2 value-3
Crop it value-2 value-3
Clothe the model value-2 value-3
Hide with obstacles value-2 value-3
Retouch it value-2 value-3

We have previously discussed Photo Halaization Technique. Please have a look: https://www.colorexpertsbd.com/blog/photo-halalization-a-way-to-optimize-photos-for-the-middle-east-market

Conclusion

As you know most of Middle Eastern countries are Muslim. So, they follow Islamic traditions in every industry. They have a certain set of advertising and image censorship rules comprising with Islamic laws. Yet some moderate and liberal countries have less rigid laws on image censorship for marketing and advertising in the Arabic region.  To get entry into the Middle Eastern giant markets with your products, you should know the local laws and cultures.

Since you are reading this concluding portion, that means you have read the above message and got an idea of how you should prepare for the Middle Eastern market to avoid rigid image censorship rules.

But, if you still feel uncertain, please contact us.

We have been serving the Middle East market for more than 15 years, so we know the rules and guidelines of the market. We are a 30+ year-old company that initiated in the Silicon Valley (San Jose, now at Virginia), USA. So, we also can understand your needs. If you have a studio or an agency with bulk demand for B2B image editing, we can provide 5,000 retouched images per day and 2,500 images with same-day delivery.

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