On the evening of June 22nd, Arab satellite mega-station MBC televised the season finale of season two of Arab Idol, the hugely popular Pan-Arab version of American Idol watched by millions throughout the Middle East. The finale had everyone on the edge of their seats, but deep down everyone’s clear favorite was Mohammed Assaf, the 23-year-old journalism student and wedding singer who grew up in a cinderblock house in a Palestinian refugee camp. Amazingly enough, Assaf won by a landslide, attracting more than 60 million call-in votes for the final round from viewers across the Arab world.
If you think the road to the top was easy for Mohammed — think again. With a seemingly endless series of insurmountable obstacles consistently thrown in front of him, Mohammed never gave up. The Economist reports from Cairo: “In a tale that sounds like a publicity agent’s dream, Mr. Assaf had to scale numerous hurdles just to get to the contest. He was held up by bureaucracy at Gaza’s only exit, the land border with Egypt, and found the doors had already closed at the show’s studio in Cairo, the capital. Undeterred, he jumped over a wall, but was too late to get a ticket for the audition. So he simply stood in front of the other would-be-contestants and sang. One of them, a fellow Palestinian, was so impressed he gave up his own place to give Mr Assaf a chance. Over eight elimination rounds, Mr Assaf’s presence helped the show’s ratings soar. His choice of songs, ranging from Egyptian crooner classics from the 1960s to modern Saudi pop to Palestinian nationalist anthems, ensured the widest appeal. The home boy’s face soon adorned posters and t-shirts across Palestine. The national phone company offered discounts on call-in votes, and the Bank of Palestine sponsored free calls to the show. Mr Assaf’s final performance was a rousing rendition of ‘Raise the Kuffiyeh High’, a paean to the Palestinian headdress that is a symbol of national resistance. He dedicated his victory to Palestine and to ‘the martyrs, the wounded and the prisoners of our struggle’.”
The Daily Beast‘s Maysoon Zayid adds: “Hamas, which is usually a fun sponge, stayed quiet, while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas did his best to photo-bomb Assaf’s big moment. It was announced when Mohammed won that Abbas had granted him diplomatic privileges.” Mohammed Assaf not only won Arab Idol, he has also become the most hopeful and beautiful symbol for Middle East peace that we’ve seen in ages. You can read the full story by visiting TheEconomist.com as well as TheDailyBeast.com.