DUBAI // More than 5,000 fans and well-wishers turned out last night to welcome the Arab Idol winner, Mohammed Assaf, to Dubai.
The broadcaster MBC built a special stage beside a car park in Dubai Media City, complete with large screens playing many of the young Palestinian's most popular performances from the television talent show.
After arriving in a silver stretch Hummer, Assaf managed to fight his way through the crowd and on to the stage to perform the Palestinian debka Ala Koufieh Ala - the song that brought the house down in last weekend's show final.
"I would like to thank you all truly for coming out tonight," he said after the perfomance.
"I would never have made it here without you and to see you all here, coming out with your families gives me great joy. I love you all."
It is Assaf's first overseas trip as the Arab Idol winner since his emotional triumph on the season finale on June 22.
The 23-year-old then briefly returned to rapturous scenes in Palestine before embarking on his first publicity tour in the Arabian Gulf.
Assaf was made to feel at home by the strong turnout of the UAE's Palestinian community.
Donning traditional Palestinian scarves, families sang popular Palestinian songs in addition to chanting Assaf's name.
Palestinian Kamal Hussein and his eight year-old son, Amr, made their journey to Dubai from Al Ain.
"It doesn't matter how long the drive was," Mr Hussein said.
"I wanted to come here and thank Mohammed for giving the Palestinian people some much-needed joy. Although this was an artistic triumph, I feel this is very important for the young Palestinians, like my son, to see something positive coming from Palestine."
Dubai resident Rami Samir went to the event with his two children, aged 1 and 3. A former Gaza resident, Mr Samir said Assaf's story resonated with him.
"When he first auditioned for the show he had to travel from Gaza to Beirut and he was stopped at checkpoints," he said.
"I know those experiences very well, and to see that he can overcome that is very inspiring for us. His experience shows that if you work hard and keep striving you can achieve your goal."
An MBC spokesman, Mazen Hayek, said he was overwhelmed with the response to the event.
"When we announced it last week, 4,600 people registered their attendance on Facebook," he said.
"Today we got more than 5,000."
Mr Hayek said the response was a testament to the popularity of Arab Idol's second season.
"We have exceeded all expectations on all means and all platforms.
"This is from local, regional and international press. The programme has emptied the streets of many cities across the region each week.
Since his first appearance on season two of Arab Idol in March, the former wedding singer has electrified the region with his silky performances of classical Arab pieces and patriotic Palestinian songs.
As well as his Arab Idol winner's prize - a new Chevrolet Camaro and a recording contract with Platinum Records - Assaf was appointed a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador by the the UN Relief and Works Agency, making him the first Palestinian to receive the title. Assaf will return to Dubai after Ramadan as part of his first international tour.
The concert, to be held at the Dubai World Trade Centre on August 15, will see him team up with his fellow Arab Idol finalists, Egypt's Ahmad Gamal and Syria's Farah Youssef.
The show will also feature a special appearance by the Lebanese star and programme judge, Raghab Alama.
Visit www.ticketingco.com to buy tickets, which start at Dh150.