Gaza through an ‘Arab Idol’s’ eyes

Bakir Oweida
Bakir Oweida
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When Hamas assumed full control over Gaza on June 15, 2007, Mohammed Assaf - born in September 10, 1989 - was less than 16 years old. When Assaf arrived in Khan Yunis from Beirut as the winner of Arab Idol on 25 June, Hamas had been ruling Gaza for six years.

I formed this association after I heard many people wondering how the phenomenon of Mohammed Assaf emerged under the extremist religious rule of Hamas. Some exaggerate when they equate Hamas with Afghanistan’s Taliban. Such people do not realize the contrasts in flexibility among religious movements.

The contrast between Hamas and Taliban does not deny the fact that Gaza is facing a new reality. Mohammed Assaf’s Gaza of 2013 is different from Gaza under Ismail Haniyeh in 2007. Even if Fatah were in the position of Hamas, it would have seen much the change that is happening in Gazan society.

How can intelligent politicians - who keep reiterating the famous saying “Politics is the art of the possible”- fail to realize the need to understand changes in the public mood? Such understanding would undermine some of the concepts opposed to a certain mood, trend or phenomenon that appeals to the public. Thus, it would be bizarre for Hamas, as well as Mahmoud Abbas’ administration, to oppose the popular and spontaneous phenomenon of Mohammed Assaf. In fact, Assaf enjoys popularity which most politicians, be they in power or in opposition, envy.

Perhaps this is an exaggeration. What I am sure of is that Assaf is a bright example that transcends Palestine and the Arab world.

Before April 11, 2009 nobody, apart from her acquaintances, knew anything about Susan Boyle of Scotland. That evening she sang I Dreamed a Dream from the stage adaption of Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables to an enraptured audience, including the panel of judges on the TV show Britain’s Got Talent. Three minutes were enough to change the life of the 52-year-old Susan Boyle, transforming her from a humble woman to a star.

Mohammed Assaf’s Gaza of 2013 is different from Gaza under Ismail Haniyeh in 2007.

Bakir Oweida

The people of Gaza themselves hardly knew anything about Mohammed Assaf prior to Arab Idol. Incidentally, I have seen a video of Mohammed Assaf singing Shiddy Heilek Ya Ballad when he was 11 years old. Anyone who watched Mohammed Assaf during the show could notice his charisma. I do not claim to be a musicologist. However, like millions of viewers, I found his voice unique.

As a journalist, I noticed the level of interaction between Assaf and his audience, his great self-confidence and ability to sing different genres, from committed songs to love songs such as Kuli dah kan leih, Al-Zeina libst Khelkhala and Ya bint Al-Sultan. This brilliant performer is not even 23 years old yet. Assaf’s performance reminds of Abdel Halim Hafiz, known as El-Andaleeb El-Asmar (the Great dark-skinned nightingale).

This should not stop us from sympathizing with Assaf as a person and a singer. As a singer, Assaf will disappoint his fans if he breaks out of his genre. As a person, the young Palestinian will be expected to be committed to his country’s cause.

Even the Lebanese superstar, Ragheb Alama, called him “the Palestinian rocket.” I understand Alama’s sense of patriotism; however, the young star should be allowed some personal freedom so that he can cultivate his talent without any pressures.

It makes me happy to see people delighted about Assaf, not only in Gaza, or Palestine, but also in all Arab countries. It seems that we very much miss being happy amid all the suffering and pain whether in Palestine, Syria or Iraq. Thanks, Mohammed Assaf; thanks, MBC channel.

This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat on July 1, 2013.

Bakir Oweida is a journalist who worked as Managing Editor, and wrote for several Arab publications based in London. He can be reached on [email protected] and [email protected]

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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