Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 8 December 2019

Populists angry as Italian-Egyptian becomes Italy's Eurovision entry

Alessandro Mahmood, 26, won the Sanremo festival, which attracts millions of viewers in the annual competition to select the best Italian song

Italian singer Mahmood celebrates on stage after winning the 69th Sanremo Italian Song Festival at the Ariston theater in Sanremo, Italy. AP
Italian singer Mahmood celebrates on stage after winning the 69th Sanremo Italian Song Festival at the Ariston theater in Sanremo, Italy. AP

Alessandro Mahmood, 26, won the Sanremo festival, which attracts millions of viewers to the annual competition to select the best Italian song

The Italian-Egyptian singer became the latest target of Italy’s populist government after he won the prestigious music festival to become the country’s representative for the Eurovision song contest.

Mr Mahmood won the Sanremo festival with 60 per cent of the jury’s vote on Saturday night. But the young talent did not win over Matteo Salvini, the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the far-right league party.

“Mahmood …mah…the most beautiful Italian song? I would have chosen #Ultimo,” he tweeted, referring to the contestant Niccolo Moriconi who sang under the name of Ultimo.

Luigi Di Maio, Mr Salvini’s coalition partners and leader of the Five Star Movement, said Mahmood’s victory represented the wishes of a jury mostly consisting “of journalists and the radical chic” rather than the “majority of voters at home”.

“Next year, maybe the winner should only be chosen by tele-voting, given that it costs Italians 51 cents to make them count!” he wrote on Facebook.

The theory of an imbalance between the vote of the jury and that of the of the viewers was also peddled by Marcello Foa, the director of Rai, the Italian state broadcaster that televised the festival. Mr Foa, who is known for his anti-immigration views, said there had been “a clear imbalance between the popular vote and a jury composed of a few dozen people” and argued the voting system should be fixed “so that the public feels represented.”

Mr Mahmood was born in Milan to an Italian mother and Egyptian father. His winning song, Soldi (Money), includes Arabic words. While critics said the voting panel may have wanted to send a political message by choosing him, Mr Mahmood told the media he is “100 per cent Italian” and wanted the song to tell the story of his childhood rather than spark a political controversy.

Updated: February 12, 2019 08:52 AM

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