7 Days

 

"Some people are asking themselves, what is more important, the Superstar or the prisoners' hunger strike," said Nidal Hamad, a respected Palestinian analyst. "We are not against Ammar Hassan or his Libyan rival, but we are against the Americanization of Arab societies. The program is part of an intellectual and cultural invasion of Arab societies at a time when Arab countries are under direct and indirect occupation."

 

 

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Jerusalem Post Staff, THE JERUSALEM POST

Aug. 26, 2004


MIDEAST By KHALED ABU TOAMEH


Swinging on a star


The euphoria surrounding Ammar Hassan, who is expected to win the title of the Arab world's finest singer as part of the popular television show Superstar, is an indication that most Palestinians are longing for a return to normal life.

Huge screens have been set up in several Palestinian cities to allow as many people as possible to watch the show and vote for the 28-year-old Hassan, a singer from the town of Salfit in the Nablus area.

 

The contest ended last week and millions of voters from across the Arab world have been invited to vote by SMS messages and the Internet. The results are expected to be announced this coming Sunday.

For nearly three months, many Palestinians have been glued to their television sets as 83 singers from the Arab world performed on the Lebanese satellite Future TV. The Palestinian singer is now competing with a Libyan colleague for the prestigious title.

Aware of the great interest in Superstar, the Palestinian Authority has joined the bandwagon by endorsing Hassan and turning his success into a Palestinian national interest. PA Chairman Yasser Arafat phoned the young singer to express his support, describing him as a "struggler for the Palestinian cause of another type."

 

The Palestinian mobile company Jawwal has reduced the cost of sending SMS messages by 20 percent to encourage Palestinians to vote for the representative.

Hassan's name is mentioned in almost every conversation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and his color pictures appear on the pages of almost every Palestinian newspaper.

 

"People are desperate for normal life and Superstar is the kind of entertainment they have been missing," said the owner of a restaurant in Ramallah. "All the people talk about is whether Ammar Hassan has a chance of becoming the Arab world's best singer or not. They don't seem to care about anything else."

Indeed, the excitement over the song contest has even overshadowed the hunger strike declared two weeks ago by the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. The families of the prisoners have expressed disappointment with the low turnout at rallies in support of their sons in comparison with the jubilation over Hassan.

In Jerusalem, only a handful of people showed up at a sit-in strike organized by the families of the prisoners. Simultaneously, hundreds of young men and women appeared at a local hall to watch the final day of Superstar.

Palestinian commentators appear to be divided on the issue of Superstar. Some have welcomed it as a boost for culture and art, while others have denounced the contest, arguing that it is intended to divert the Arab world's attention from what's happening in the Palestinian territories and Iraq.

"We should be proud that a Palestinian singer has reached this stage," said a senior official with the PA Ministry of Culture, which has been organizing a series of events in support of Hassan. "There is nothing wrong with this phenomenon and it shows that the Palestinian people are like any other people with an art and culture of their own."

 

Opponents of Superstar see it as destructive and harmful to the Arabs. First, they argue, the program is copied from an American show and is not purely Arabic. Second, they add, such programs are designed to keep the Arab world's attention focused on trivial matters.

 

"Some people are asking themselves, what is more important, the Superstar or the prisoners' hunger strike," said Nidal Hamad, a respected Palestinian analyst. "We are not against Ammar Hassan or his Libyan rival, but we are against the Americanization of Arab societies. The program is part of an intellectual and cultural invasion of Arab societies at a time when Arab countries are under direct and indirect occupation."

 

The 7,000 prisoners are also believed to be dismayed at the fact that millions of people across the Arab world are more interested in Superstar than in their predicament. They have even more reason to be worried. If Hassan wins the contest on Sunday, thousands of Palestinians will take to the streets to celebrate, dealing their case yet another blow.

 

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