Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
News, June 2013
Arab Idol for 2013:
Palestinian Singer Muhammed Assaf
Saturday, June 22, 2013, 6:00 pm ET
Editor's Comment on the News
By Hassan El-Najjar
The Arabic TV, MBC, started an "Arab Idol" show last year for the first time. For many nations around the world, this may not be considered a big-deal news story. However, in the Middle East today, it's a big-deal story, if not the biggest, among all these revolutions, civil wars, armed resistance, and protests.
The big deal is that hundreds of millions of Arabs have been watching the show that attracts young men and young women from all over the Arab States, then millions of Arabs vote for the weekly winners.
Last year, Arab viewers voted by cellphones for the Egyptian young woman singer, Carmen Sulaiman, to be the first Arab Idol.
This year, they voted by cellphones for the Palestinian young man, Muhammed 'Assaf, from Gaza, to be the 2013 Arab Idol, the second to win this title.
Arabs from the Atlantic Ocean in Morocco and Mauritania to the Arabian Gulf States listened to him singing for them and also telling them his story of leaving the besieged Gaza Strip and the hurdles he faced until finally he reached the panel in Cairo, to participate in the show.
The show has unified Arab masses on enjoying Arab music and singing, in appreciation to their Arab culture, amidst all the bloodshed and destruction going on right now throughout the region.
Arab viewers also voted for an Iraqi Kurdish young woman for several weeks, in appreciation for the Kurdish culture.
In deed, the show has done what Arab nationalist politicians and intellectuals have been dreaming about without being able to achieve: Unification of the Arab Nation, on any level.
It's a moment of joy, to be enjoyed before another round of violence starts in the troubled region!
Muhammed 'Assaf reacting to announcing him as the 2013 Arab Idol
Preforming his winning song, "Ya 'Urooba," after announcing him as the 2013 Arab Idol.
'Aliy Al-Kufiyeh 'Aliy, Wuloali'h Fiha: Iraqi folklore music with Palestinian words
Song: Ya Rayt for Raghib 'Alameh
Ya Tair: Palestinian Folklore
Song: Sowt Al-'Hida: Hayhat Yabuz Zuluf
Song: Safeeni Marrah for Abdul Halim Hafiz
Song: Ya 'Aini 'Assabr for Wadee' Al-Safi
Song: Kul Li Da Kan Layh for Muhammed Abdul Wahab
Song: Ib-'ad for Muhammed 'Abdu
Song: Zaina Libsit Khulkhalha
Song: Gatalooni 'Uyounha Assood
Song: 'Ala 'Hisbiwdad Galbi Ya Booi
Song: 'Innabi for Karim Mahmoud
Reactions in Palestinian cities the moment Muhammed Assaf was announced as the Arab Idol:
Overview of Arab Idol 2013, including the last show of announcing Assaf as the 2013 Arab Idol:
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Mohammed Assaf (Arabic: ãÍãÏ ÚÓÇÝý; b. 10 September 1989) is a Palestinian singer, well known for being the winner of Arab Idol, a Beirut, Lebanon-based show hosted on the MBC network. He was given the nickname Asaroukh ("The Rocket") by Lebanese singer and Arab Idol judge Ragheb Alama. Assaf was named a goodwill ambassador for peace by The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) . He was also offered a position with “diplomatic standing” by the Palestinian president Mahmood Abbas.
Assaf was compared to the late Egyptian sensation Abdel Halim Hafez through his voice as well as his appearance. People have used part of the late Egyptian sensation's name and merged it with Assaf's, as in Assaf Hilm Falastine ("Assaf Palestine’s Dream.")
He was born in Misrata, Libya to Palestinian parents from Gaza Strip, Palestine. Assaf and his parents returned to the refugee camp at Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip when he was four years old. He is one of seven siblings, three of whom, including Assaf, have been involved in performing live music. Assaf's mother Intisar, a mathematics teacher, has stated that Assaf began singing at the age of five and "had a voice of someone who was much, much older." Assaf did not have professional training as a singer, he started his career singing at weddings and other private events. He entered the public view in 2000 during a popular local televison program where he called in and sung a nationalist song to the host's praise. Afterward, he was frequently offered contracts with local record companies.
Mohammad Assaf traveled from Palestine to Egypt to audition for Arab Idol. It took him two days to reach Egypt by car due to complications on the border. At the beginning, he had to convince the Egyptian security at the border crossing, where he was stuck for two days, to leave Gaza. Once he reached the hotel where the auditions were taking place, the doors were closed in which they did not accept anymore auditions so he jumped over the wall. After he jumped over the wall, he couldn't get a number to audition, he sat hopelessly in the hall where other contestants who were waiting for their turn. He started singing to the contestants, and a Palestinian contestant who was waiting to audition heard him and gave him his number saying, "I know I won't reach the finals but you will."
After singing Ragheb Alama's song during one of the primes on Arab Idol, which made the judge's praise him even more, Alama didn't just love his performance, but he also surprised him with a generous gesture in appreciation for his great performance, granting him the right to sing and release his song "Ya Rayt Fiyyi Khabiha" as a duet with the famous Lebanese singer. Ahlam, an Emirati singer and judge on the show, said of Assaf "I feel when you are singing, I am the guest in a big concert and you are the star," while Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram was impressed with him, calling Assaf "a true singer" after one of his performances. Hassan El Shafei compared Assaf's voice to a tuner, indicating how Assaf has complete controle over his voice.
Assaf has gained widespread popularity throughout the Arab world and among fellow Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and the diaspora through his performance of well-known Arabic love songs and patriotic hymns for the Palestinian cause. Family members, neighbors and Palestinians in general have been waiting for his performance in Beirut every Friday night. Mohammed Assaf has soared to stardom as the voice of Palestinians and every other country that has been through trauma and war. Board member of Gaza Association for Culture and Arts Jamal Abu Qumsan stated Assaf "has struck a chord with Palestinians by singing classic Arabic songs that deal with issues other than war and struggle ... To many here, that kind of music offers them a sense of stability" amid constantly unstable circumstances due to the conflict with Israel and intra-Palestinian strife.
Mohammed Assaf sang in English during one of the live shows of Arab Idol, and surprised the judges as well as the public. He sang "I Want It That Way" by the Backstreet Boys. Assaf singing in English was unexpected, yet his performance was beautiful and emotional, and was praised by his fans and the judges of the show.
The buzz Assaf created has reached the United States, Europe, and recently Asia, due to articles posted by American-based news websites such as Wet Paint, Voice of America, 12 News, The Japan Times, the well-known CNN news website CNN International, as well as European-based news sites such as Germany's well known Frankfurter Rundschau, and many more sites such as Wall Street. News articles have been written about his voice striking the middle east such as the French news website "De Guysen" under the title "Mohammed Assaf Nouvelle star de Gaza", the famous British news site The Guardian under the title "Arab Idol favourite Mohammed Assaf carries hopes of Palestinians into final", and the South African news site News Wall under the title "Gaza Refugee tipped to win Arab Idol."
Over a hundred articles have been written about him in different languages and from multiple countries across the world, and they increase every week after his performance on the Friday night show. The articles talk about him, his voice and his rough journey to reach where he is now. The articles have been written and posted online and published in news papers. Comments posted on these articles from fans who admire him, a large number of those fans do not even understand what he's singing yet relate to his voice and his rough past and journey which are seen through the comments they post.
According to statistics done by Synthesio Corporation they've stated that "This massive support from Palestinians all over the world is a likely indication Assaf has a significant chance of winning this series of Arab Idol – but what impact has he had globally on social media? Assaf dominates almost half of all online conversations about contestants – Many fans describe him as the ‘Tom Cruise of Arab Idol’. Assaf has even won support from the ex-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s daughter, who is encouraging viewers to vote for him.As expected, the majority of online debate is coming from the Middle East - Especially Saudi Arabia. However Synthesio’s analysis of conversations taking place on social media platforms, blogs, forums and the comment sections of online publications around the world reveals fans are chatting about the show as far afield as South America and the UK, where half of all positive comments relate to Assaf. And 12 per cent of all comments are coming from the US."
While Assaf has normally avoided politics on the show, he has stated "I can't differentiate between my art and my patriotic attitude." Assaf condemned the ongoing Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the poor living conditions in the Gaza Strip. He also stated that Palestinian prisoner Samer Issawi's long-term hunger strike protest had inspired him. He frequently performed donning the checkered keffiyeh popularly associated with Palestinian nationalism.
Some Palestinian politicians have showed their support for the singer who has been creating a sense of unity among Palestinians, regardless of differing political beliefs. Salam Fayyad, former Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, called on all Palestinians to support Assaf. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had also called for Palestinians everywhere, including the diaspora, to vote for Assaf.
Although prior to his participation in Arab Idol, Assaf stated he had been briefly detained by the security forces of the conservative Hamas party and paramilitary group—which maintains de facto control over Gaza—on over 20 different occasions in an effort to dissuade him from singing, the group has not suppressed Palestinian support for Assaf or viewership of the show. Signalling a shift in attitude, a Gaza-based Hamas MP, Yahya Mousa, lauded Assaf and referred to him the "ambassador for Palestinian art."
He is highly popular in the Palestinian territories, where the Washington Post notes that the "streets of Gaza empty out" when the show goes on air on Fridays and Saturdays. Throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, large posters promoting Assaf have been hung on residences and shops.
Days before his crowning as the Arab Idol, Assaf was appointed the Palestine refugee agency UNRWA's first-ever regional youth ambassador. He was also offered a position with “diplomatic standing” by the Palestinian president Mahmood Abbas.
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