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Palestinian Assaf Wins Arab Idol Singing Contest

Watching Arab Idol in Palestine, June 8, 2013

Watching Arab Idol in Palestine, June 8, 2013. Photo by Johannes Axner (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Palestinian Mohammed Assaf won the title of this year's Arab Idol, the Arabic version of American Idol. However, having contestants from different Arab countries makes the singing competition similar to Eurovision, where the citizens of each country consider the win a national trophy.
This year, Assaf's win sent thousands of Palestinians to the streets, celebrating, chanting and dancing.

@erinmcunningham: Great night in Palestine tonight as 24-year-old Gazan-born singer Mohammed Assad takes the Arab Idol crown :) Mabrouk [Congratulations]!

Assaf, who himself grew up in a refugee camp and whose mother is an UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) teacher, was appointed as UNRWA Ambassador for Palestine Refugees following his win:

@Zeinobia: Mohamed Assaf is now an ambassador for the UNRWA

@lesliethomas427: So happy for my buddies in #Gaza #UNRWA with reason to celebrate #ArabIdol Mohammad Assaf win!

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian National Authority, also granted, the Gaza-born, Assaf diplomatic status:

@allawati: Mahmoud Abbas grants Mohammed Assaf diplomatic status in the non-state of Palestine.

Deema commented on the reactions of UNRWA and Abbas’ appointments, seeing it as a hijack of Assaf's title for personal purposes.

@DeemaM: The best part about #Assaf winning #ArabIdol is how the UNRWA and Mahmoud Abbas have hijacked his win for their own selfish purposes.

Joseph Dana also mocked Abbas’ reaction, especially that it coincided with the resignation of the Palestinian prime minister.

@ibnezra: Abbas accepts resignation of Rami Hamdallah. Mohammad Assaf for Palestinian PM?

It is always hard in the Arab world to draw a solid line between events like music competitions or football matches and politics. Ali Abunimah tweets:

@AliAbunimah: Look how Palestinians are joyfully celebrating Assaf's win. Imagine what it'll be like when they celebrate the defeat of Israeli apartheid!

Some others were not happy, saying that this is not an event that deserves celebration. Islam Faried tweets with irony [ar]:

@islamfaried: باركوا يا جماعة للشعب الفلسطيني … محمد عساف حرر القدس وبنى مملكة بيت المقدس وقام بترميم المسجد الأقصى

@islamfaried: Congratulate the Palestinian people, everybody .. Mohammad Assaf has liberated Jerusalem, built a monarchy there and renovated Al-Aqsa mosque.

@NivineA: Stupid Arabs can spend money on voting, fancy performances and outfits but forget that Syrians are dying next door #ArabIdol

@YasserAhmad: #ArabIdol is yet another lame story of how to collect money over silly voting. Arabs are only good in voting for singers not politicians.

It however helped break some long-standing stereotypes.

Because of the political situation there, very few Arabs have ever been to Palestine, and most of them drew a stereotypical image of it and its people from the footage they watch in the news or the images published in newspapers. @ahmedhasen_40 explains in two tweets [ar]:

احنا زمان اترسم في خيالنا ان اهل فلسطين ليل ونهار في مظاهرات وضرب حجارة او صواريخ …ولما عشنا الثورة عرفنا انك تنشغل بالسياسة والمظاهرات وبرضه تحب وتسمع اغاني وتحتفل بالعيد وتلعب كرة

In the past, we had this mental image that people in Palestine are either demonstrating day and night or throwing stones and launching rockets .. but after we lived the revolution here, we realised that you can be preoccupied with politics and demonstrations, yet continue to fall in love, listen to music, celebrate and play football.

For others, the win had a sentimental value:

@LRJarrar: My dad is 71 years old & cries like a baby when he hears Mohammed Assaf on #ArabIdol sing for Palestine as audience chants “Falasteen”

Abeer Ayyoub writes for +972 about Assaf's victory:

When we finally got home, we found mum gazing at the television screen with a wide smile on her face … I asked mum how it was in the neighborhood when the results were announced. She said the fireworks never stopped and that my two-year-old niece Tala woke up crying out of fear. She thought it was the same sounds of bombardments she usually hears; sad! That was the reason we were so happy – we are not accustomed to such kinds of happiness, we have always known war, blood and destruction. But yesterday, we proved to everyone, first and foremost to ourselves, that we are a nation of love and peace rather than a nation of blood and war.

She adds:

Assaf did what politics couldn’t: he united Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem, the occupied lands of 1948 and the diaspora. They all supported the Palestinian artist regardless of his home territory or political affiliation. That is the ultimate Palestinian goal: unity.

Nervana shares the same opinion with Abeer:

‏@Nervana_1: Fact: Mohamed Assaf has united the Palestinians better than Meshaal, Haniyeh and Abbas! #Assaf #arabidol

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