Kuwaiti poet wins Million's Poet first prize

Controversial Saudi poetess comes in third place


A Young Kuwaiti poet beat 47 Arab rivals on Thursday to become the first in his country to win the AED5-million (1$ million) first prize in UAE's Million's Poet contest, while a controversial Saudi poetess who received death threats for her daring poems came third.

Nasser al-Ajami a 30-year-old amateur poet won the competition after receiving 67 percent of public and jury votes.

Another poet from Kuwait walked away with AED4 million ($820,000) after winning the second place in the competition.

Meanwhile, Saudi lady poet Hessa Hilal, also known as Remeya, won the AED 3-million ($616,000) third place in the competition for her controversial poetry attacking radical clerics who issue religious rulings deemed by moderates and liberals to incite violence and social disorder.

Poetess lashes out at clerics

Hilal, the first woman to reach the semi-finals in the five-month long contest, received several death threats for criticizing strict laws in the Saudi society, especially the prohibition of mingling between the sexes.

The closing ceremony of the Million's Poet contest, which lasted till the early hours of Thursday, witnessed unprecedented female attendance as women came from all over the Gulf region, particularly in Saudi, to cheer for Hilal, who they hoped would win the first prize.

"I came here to support Hilal," Ghadeer Nasser, from the Saudi city of Dammam told Al Arabiya. "I admire her stance and her poems and I was hoping she would get first place, but unfortunately she didn't."

Athari al-Saeed, from Dubai, said it was important to show support for Hilal, especially after the death threats she has received for her poetry.

"She received death threats for her bravery and we had to support her," she said. "I wanted her to win to prove that women can compete with men in everything."

In the closing night, Hilal recited another poem in which she reiterated her condemnation of people who issue apostasy and bloodshed sanctioning fatwas. In her poem, Hilal called upon the society to be brave enough to face those people and not to be intimidated by their threats.

The Million's Poet is the world's most famous contest of Nabati poetry, the Bedouin poetry native to the Arabian Peninsula. The show's popularity in the Middle East makes it sometimes compared to the U.S. talent show American Idol.

Season four of The Million’s Poet witnessed unprecedented female participation as four female poets were qualified to take part in the contest.

Thousands of poets from all over the Arab world applied and 48 were chosen to participate. Contestants are judged according to votes by a jury of experts as well as the audience, both in-theatre and via SMS. The number of applicants in the fourth season amounted to 14,000.

Winner of the first prize walks away with five million dirhams, the second four million, the third three million, the fourth two million, and the fifth one million.

(Translated from the Arabic by Sonia Farid)