For the second time in four seasons a Palestinian won the most popular pan-Arab television musical contest.
Yacoub Shahin, from Bethlehem, emerged victorious in what organisers said was the most watched show in the history of the Middle East Broadcasting (MBC) programme.
He bettered Yemeni singer Ammar Mohammad and fellow Palestinian Amir Dandan.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who happened to be in Beirut last weekend, invited the three finalists and Ahlam, the flamboyant Emirati member of the show’s artistic jury, to his Beirut residence.
Yasser Abbas, the president’s son, Vera Baboun the mayor of Bethlehem, Ahmad Assaf, the director general of Palestine TV and businessman Munib Masri attended the show’s finale and joined the celebration with the winner.
Shahin’s quavering voice, especially in the mawwal version of Arab music, earned him his popularity. His mawwal was so popular that midway through the competition, Egyptian member of the jury Hassan Shafi said Yacoub’s voice was intoxicating.
“Your voice should be banned [from ] people because it is intoxicating. I was hoping that your song today would be the final song because I do not want to have any other song in my memory,” he said.
Lebanese music star Wael Kfoury said that Shahin has all the elements of a star.
“I would like to reserve from now tickets to your upcoming concerts,” Kfoury said.
In 1948, Shahin’s parents, Palestinian Christians of Syriac denomination, were refugees from what is now West Jerusalem and settled in Bethlehem where they have been living since.
Yacoub is well known to the local community as he has sang in churches, weddings, popular events and in the annual Christmas eve concerts at the Church of Nativity.
His fellow contestant, Dandan, was born in the Palestinian village of Marj Al Krum, in what is now Israel. He is living in the US and he came to Beirut from America.
Joining them on stage was the winner of Arab Idol’s second season, Mohmmad Assaf, from Gaza, who won the 2013 contest.
Political engagement in pop culture is not new. What was interesting was the fact that the MBC talent show succeeded in unifying Palestinians even if that was on a stage in Lebanon.
After the results were announced, Palestinian artists from the West Bank, the Galilee and Gaza sang popular nationalist songs draped with the red, green, black and white flag of Palestine.
Live video feeds from huge crowds in Bethlehem’s Nativity Square and from the village of Majd Al Krum were interspersed with Palestinians’ singing for Palestine and for freedom.
During the short reception, Abbas said that he follows the popular television programme.
Social media activists picked up on the phrase and created a hashtag “follow us”, and Palestinians of different backgrounds tweeted to their president to “follow us”.
One reminded the president that he has not set foot in Gaza for more than a decade, another said that he needed to visit some of the refugee camps in Lebanon.
At a time religious extremists continue to spew poisonous rhetoric and declare music and art to be against Islam, Arab Idol’s Palestinian Christian singer’s success with millions of followers and watchers speaks volumes.
Few in Israel or the rest of the world paid attention to the event. If they did, they would have seen a totally different type of Palestinian from what has been engraved in their minds by the media and image makers.
A television talent show will certainly not end the Israeli occupation, nor will it do much to overcome the split and division among Palestinians and Arabs, but the reaction towards the nearly forgotten Palestinian case was a pleasant reminder that all is not lost.
The success of the Palestinian contestant and the highly emotional ending showed once again how powerful the Palestinian cause is in the minds of the Arabs.
While the Palestinian split and the civil wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya are still going on, the Arab world took a night off and celebrated with and for Palestine.
Taking a night off to vote for and celebrate with Palestine might have eased the conscience of supporters throughout the Arab world, but the therapy was most needed in Palestine itself.
For one night, the people of Palestine still living under an Israeli occupation that has no end in sight were able to forget about their occupiers and celebrate with their beloved Yacoub.