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Very cute Gaza refugee tipped to win Arab Idol
Gaza refugee tipped to win Arab Idol
Mohammed Assaf has had messages of support from Palestinian president and prime minister
Harriet Sherwood in Khan Younis; guardian.co.uk, Sunday 26 May 2013 07.39 EDT
The golden voice of a young man from a Gaza refugee camp has enchanted viewers of Arab Idol, broadcast weekly to huge audiences across the Middle East, making him a favourite to win the final of the television singing contest.
Mohammed Assaf, 22, has won massive support from viewers enthralled by his rendition of traditional love songs and laments for the Palestinian cause. He has also succeeded in uniting Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and the diaspora behind his efforts to win.
Assaf, who often performs wearing a traditional black-and-white chequered keffiyeh, is one of 12 finalists in the competition, broadcast by the Saudi-owned MBC1. Last year's winner secured a lucrative recording contract and was presented with a car.
Posters of his delicate features hang in homes and shops all over the West Bank and Gaza. An open-air broadcast on Friday evening in Ramallah attracted thousands of viewers, and restaurants in Gaza that have shown the programme on big screens have been packed.
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and prime minister, Salam Fayyad, have telephoned Assaf to give support and encouragement. Two mobile phone companies have offered cut-price texts for viewers who vote by SMS after watching performances and hearing the verdicts of a panel of celebrity judges.
But Assaf's performances have met with criticism from some conservative Islamic groups, including Hamas, who disapprove of the western-style programme. "There has been no direct criticism, but we hear that some sheikhs at Friday prayers don't like this," his older brother Shadi, a taxi driver, said at the family's home in Khan Younis. "Always there are some enemies of success."
Assaf, who has had no formal training, began performing at weddings and private parties in Gaza as a child. He is currently in Beirut for the filming of Arab Idol. Last year, when the Guardian met him in Gaza, he said that although his repertoire consisted mainly of patriotic songs, he also wanted to sing love songs. "But there's nowhere to perform them in Gaza," he said.
Hamas, he said last year, discouraged artists and musicians, and he had been arrested more than 20 times by Hamas security officials. "Once I was arrested for a week. They kept asking me to sign a pledge not to sing. But my message as a Palestinian is that we not only speak or fight or shoot, but we also sing."
But since being catapulted to fame, Assaf has not abandoned his roots or his beliefs. He has spoken against the Israeli occupation and has supported hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. "If I had to choose between winning the Arab Idol title and the freedom of [prisoner] Samer Issawi, I would choose freedom for the Palestinian hero whose steadfastness is peerless," he told the Palestinian news website Ma'an last month. "I can't differentiate between my art and my patriotic attitude."
Shadi Assaf, 28, said the children of the family had grown up with music in the house. "Our father would listen to famous Arab singers," he said. Three of the seven siblings have performed in public.
Mohammed had already had offers of recording contracts, said Shadi, but was waiting to see the outcome of the competition. "At first he didn't expect to get a lot of votes, he didn't think he could beat the contestants from Egypt and the Gulf states. He said it's good to take part even if he didn't get very far because it's good for people to know that even Palestinians living under siege can have talent and can survive. We have been surprised at the votes for him from all over the world."
The Assaf family, along with others all over Gaza, the West Bank and the Arab world, gather to watch Arab Idol every Friday evening. "When I see him on TV, I feel tears because I miss him, but I also feel very happy," said Shadi. "if he wins, I'm sure he will live abroad, but he will always come back to Gaza to see us."
- Mohammed Assaf performs in a rehearsal for Arab Idol.
- For I second I read that as "Very cute Gaga refugee".
- They have this shit in the Arab countries too?!
- Well, according to some logic expounded on DL:
Mohammed Assaf is an Muslim Arab refugee,
Muslims are Islamic extremists (especially the dispossessed ones),
Islamic extremists are terrorists,
Therefore, Mohammed Assaf is a terrorist.
Also, don't forget he wants to take all of your rights away.
- " I'm gonna get me a shotgun and kill all the whities I see."
- Palestinians step up campaign for Gaza "Arab Idol" star
By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA | Thu Jun 20, 2013 6:39am EDT
(Reuters) - Palestinian fans and big business are rallying behind a 22-year-old singer from the Gaza Strip in a final push to vote him the next "Arab Idol" in a TV talent contest choosing a winner in Beirut on Saturday.
Mohammed Assaf is the first Palestinian to qualify for "Arab Idol", the Middle East's version of "American Idol", in which contestants perform for judges and voting viewers.
His potent mix of good looks and emotional lyrics about ancestral Palestinian lands have helped to turn the young man from Gaza's Khan Younis refugee camp into a star and symbol of unity for Palestinians plagued by deep internal divisions.
Voting in the pan-Arab competition is done through text messages. To encourage support for Assaf, one of three finalists, two Palestinian cellular telephone companies have cut their rates for ballots cast for him.
The Bank of Palestine is throwing money into the campaign, promising to match up to 350,000 texted votes - each one costs 1.50 shekels ($.40) - for Assaf. It has placed billboards with his picture at major intersections in Gaza and the West Bank.
"Vote and the Bank of Palestine votes with you," says a radio and television commercial broadcast in the Palestinian territories, where Assaf's songs blare constantly from vehicles.
President Mahmoud Abbas has spoken to Assaf by phone and instructed Palestinian embassies abroad to urge expatriates to vote for him, calling the singer "the pride of the Palestinian and Arab nation".
Abbas's main Palestinian rival, the Islamist group Hamas that rules Gaza, frowns on non-Islamic songs and the kind of Western-style glitz on full display in TV talent shows.
But Hamas has tacitly endorsed Assaf, who has performed with a traditional black-and-white Palestinian scarf around his shoulders, saying he is free to sing in the Gaza Strip and noting that he comes from a respected family.
Egyptian Ahmed Jamal and a Syrian woman, Farah Youssef, are also finalists in the contest broadcast by the Saudi-owned MBC Group.
To keep the votes for Assaf coming, the Palestinian cellular operator Jawwal is offering cash prizes of up to $10,000 for customers who text in the highest number of ballots.
Some cafes in the West Bank city of Ramallah are offering to text a vote for every cup of coffee that customers order.
"By voting for Assaf, we are voting for Palestine, for us," read a typical entry on his Facebook fan pages.
Huge celebrations are likely on the streets of the West Bank and Gaza if he wins.
- Mohammed Assaf, 2013
- Well, if you want to be honest about the politics of it, r4: Assaf isn't a refugee. For some reason, the UN gave hereditary refugee status to Palestinians. But the truth is, his grandparents might have been refugees, but at age 22, it's pretty obvious Assaf isn't. He's just the descendant of a refugee.
- He is young, but I would not say cute.
Maybe only if you are an old troll or fatty. Then yes, to you he is cute because you would never get anything near that.
For the rest of us, not even someone I would give a second look in a bar or on the street.
- The winner gets a suicide belt.
- Cute? I'll show you cute. This is Mike Ward a finalist in the UK version of "The Voice".
- He won!
- [quote]The winner gets a suicide belt.
Product of the US media.
- [quote]The winner gets a suicide belt.
He was hoping to win Carl Kasell's voice on his answering machine.
- You should read the article again, r4 and r14. Assaf passionately supports terrorists.
- No, what he supports is Israel GTFO of their lives once and for all. If he was an Islamic extremist, he wouldn't even be in the competition because it's frowned upon by them.
- For r17:
[quote]"If I had to choose between winning the Arab Idol title and the freedom of [prisoner] Samer Issawi, I would choose freedom for the Palestinian hero whose steadfastness is peerless," he told the Palestinian news website Ma'an last month.
The Guardian helpfully informs us that Issawi is a "prisoner". He's also a terrorist.
- [quote]Well, if you want to be honest about the politics of it, [R4]: Assaf isn't a refugee.
If you are being forced to live in a refugee camp, which most people in Gaza and many in the West bank are, you are a refugee. If your parents' and grandparents' homes and land are still being occupied by someone else, you are a refugee.