Palestinian 'Arab Idol' victory unleashes rare outburst of joy

Sat Jun 22, 2013 7:28pm EDT
 
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GAZA/RAMALLAH (Reuters) - Palestinian cities erupted in joy after Gazan singer Mohammed Assaf won the "Arab Idol" song contest final held in Beirut on Saturday night, providing a welcome break from the grinding conflict with Israel.

The fresh-faced 22-year-old from humble roots in a refugee camp endeared millions of voting television viewers with his Palestinian patriotic anthems and folk songs.

After watching Assaf's victory from giant screens in the Gaza Strip and Israeli-occupied West Bank, tens of thousands of Palestinians set off fireworks, danced in the streets and blasted his music from cars idling in frantic traffic jams.

"This shows that Palestinians don't just fight and struggle, but we rejoice and make great art," beamed Awad Najib, a government employee, after a mass viewing outside the Ramallah presidential palace in the West Bank.

Some Muslim clerics in Friday sermons had dismissed the pageant, saying its title encouraged idolatry and that people's energies would be better spent confronting Israel's occupation.

Political activists, too, complained that the glitzy spectacle had little to do with the Palestinian plight.

But most Palestinians would have none of this, and Saturday's revelry was like the end-of-Ramadan holiday combined with the World Cup Final.

The scale of the celebrations easily outstripped most political or protest rallies of recent years, and far exceeded those held after Palestinians gained non-member statehood in a vote at the United Nations General assembly last November.

Many political leaders, who have increasingly alienated Palestinians with their bickering, have sought to try to hitch a ride from Assaf's galloping popularity.   Continued...

 
Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf reacts after being announced winner of the Season 2 finale of "Arab Idol" in Zouk Mosbeh area, north of Beirut June 22, 2013. REUTERS/Mohammed Azakir