Winner of 'Arab Idol' Highlights Plight of Palestinians

Regional Competition Became Platform for Airing Political Ideas

In the Streets: Thousands gather in Ramallah to celebrate the victory of a Palestinian contestant on the popular show ‘Arab Idol’.
Getty Image
In the Streets: Thousands gather in Ramallah to celebrate the victory of a Palestinian contestant on the popular show ‘Arab Idol’.

By Reuters

Published June 23, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The finalists of “Arab Idol” were as glamorous as Hollywood stars in their tuxedos and evening gowns, but their real lives couldn’t be further from the bright lights of the stage.

The three hopefuls hailed from Syria, Egypt and the Palestinian territories - some of the world’s most troubled and unsettled countries.

Palestinian Mohammed Assaf, crowned the winner on Saturday night, grew up in a refugee camp in the Gaza strip. He spent hours at border crossings and had to climb the studio’s back fence to arrive in time to secure a spot in the competition.

“Spreading the words of young people and watching them achieve their dreams - this is much better than the sounds of gunfire that we are getting used to hearing in Palestine, Syria and around the Arab world,” said a beaming Assaf after his win.

In Beirut, where the competition was held, outdoor cafes put up big screens and the sound of 24-year-old Farah Youssef’s voice drifted down streets.

Youssef, from Syria, braved a treacherous terrain of gunmen and checkpoints to reach neighbouring Lebanon to sing on stage.

Aspiring stars from Morocco to Bahrain competed for a chance at a record deal in the second season of “Arab Idol”. Across the region, audiences had been glued to their TV sets to watch the contestants, singing a mix of traditional Arab folk tunes and bubbly pop pieces, whittled down to the final three.

The show also proved a platform to air political and social statements.

“No one in the region talks about anything other than wars or Arab Idol,” said Lebanese judge Ragheb Alama.

“These are the real ambassadors to these countries. With the regime changes happening in Arab countries, they are a spot of light amid the growing dark shadows.”

Parwaz Hussein, a semi-finalist from Iraq’s Kurdistan region, drew objections from some of the judges after listing her country as “Kurdistan”. She began the competition singing Kurdish songs though she later switched to Arabic.

Numbering more than 25 million, the non-Arab Kurds are often described as the world’s largest ethnic group without a state.

As crowds waving Palestinian flags rushed to lift Saturday’s winner on to their shoulders, Hussein danced on to stage with the Kurdish flag. Security guards quickly tore it away from her.

Egyptian finalist Ahmed Gamal said the show had opened up room for discourse. “Arab Idol has offered us more than any politician has,” he said. “That might be an important message.”

In one of her final performances before the vote, Youssef surprised judges with a piece traditionally sung by men. She belted out “Songs of Aleppo”, evoking memories of the ancient city before it was divided by conflict.

The young woman in a glittering emerald gown is a government supporter from Syria’s minority Alawite sect, but has brushed off sectarian slurs and complaints she should not be competing for fame as her country is racked by a civil war that has claimed more than 93,000 lives.

“Our country is in pain, it doesn’t need more people to cry for it, it needs people to bring it pride,” she said.

Watch Mohammed Assaf perform on ‘Arab Idol’:


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.