x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Gaza celebrates Mohammed Assaf's Arab Idol victory

Tens of thousands pour onto the streets blaring car horns and waving flags after the 22-year-old won the Arab Idol contest and brought hope to Palestinians.

Family members and friends at the family home of Mohammed Assaf in a refugee camp  Khan Younis, Gaza , celebrate as Mohammed Assaf is announced the winner. Heidi Levine/Sipa Press
Family members and friends at the family home of Mohammed Assaf in a refugee camp Khan Younis, Gaza , celebrate as Mohammed Assaf is announced the winner. Heidi Levine/Sipa Press

KHAN YOUNIS, GAZA // Tens of thousands of Palestinians took to the streets on Saturday night to celebrate Mohammed Assaf's victory in the Arab Idol singing competition.

The 22-year-old from Khan Younis, a city in central Gaza, defeated the two other remaining competitors in the Beirut-based contest, which was watched by millions of viewers across the Arab world.

Assaf rose to stardom early on during the weekly television show, earning accolades from celebrity judges and viewers for his powerful vocals and decision to sing about an eclectic range of topics such as love and Palestinian nationalism.

To Palestinians, he has offered hope beyond the bleak economic and political conditions caused by Israeli occupation and a national leadership bitterly divided between Gaza's ruling Hamas movement and the Fatah faction in the West Bank.

After he was named Arab Idol winner, jubilant residents flooded the streets of his hometown of Khan Younis while waving Palestinian flags, blaring on car stereos popular songs performed and setting off flurries of fireworks.

Hundreds of well wishers congregated in front of the Assaf family home, embracing his family members and performing the dabke, a traditional Arab dance.

Many Palestinians from Gaza to the West Bank administrative capital of Ramallah have rallied behind Assaf, who also has earned praise from leaders, including Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president.

But Assaf's participation in Arab Idol also has irked conservative Palestinians in Gaza, who consider the competition immodest.

The Hamas movement that controls Gaza has kept itself distanced from Assaf.

While the Islamist group has not issued any formal statements on Assaf, some individual Hamas members have credited him for highlighting the Palestinian struggle during his performances.

 

hnaylor@thenational.ae