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The audience's women--most with carefully coiffed manes, some in shoulder-baring halter tops--applaud wildly.

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Modeled on American hit The View, Kalam Nawaem, broadcast out of Beirut, is a potent mix of cozy chat and edgy issues.

Its four hosts include a Palestinian actress, a Lebanese TV veteran--their blue-jeaned, blowdried sleekness straight off Madison Avenue--and a maternal Egyptian self-help columnist, a sort of Muslim Dear Abby. " Abu Sulayman says enthusiastically, smiling at Kalam Nawaem's first guest, actress Hala Shiha.

More than half of Arab women are illiterate, meaning TV, rather than books or newspapers, serves as their window on the wider world.

A Saudi Arabian woman--banned by law from voting, driving, or going out unveiled--can watch her Jordanian and Egyptian sisters do all those things on television.

Today, about 80 percent of the Middle East's population is watching, according to Arab Advisors Group, a market research company.

No longer exclusive to the elite, satellite TV has become standard mass-market entertainment, and anchors and talk-show hosts are using it to tackle taboos, challenge traditional authorities, and draw women in as never before.

This is indecent."Two years ago, Islamic conservatives, shocked at the fact that male and female contestants were sharing the same house in the Arab version of Big Brother, forced the program off the air.

The harrowing politics of the region have proved a dubious boon to one makeover show: Labor and Materials fixes up houses that have been destroyed by bombs or grenades in Iraq.

People are getting used to seeing women on TV--and they're starting to think their message of personal freedom makes sense."People are also seeing women in a huge array of roles previously occupied only by men.

Flip through Arab channels and one sees a complete range: veiled female scholars working on their Ph.

On a softly lit set transformed into a chic, minimalist living room, five Arab women sit on orange and yellow couches, gossiping and laughing in front of a live studio audience.

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