A Palestinian holds a picture of Muhammad Assaf, a Palestinian finalist… (Abba Momani / AFP/Getty…)
RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Thousands of Palestinians gathered Friday night at city centers, coffee shops and homes across the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, glued to their TVs to watch one of their own, 23-year-old Muhammad Assaf, compete for the title in the final round of the talent show "Arab Idol."
Large screens were put up in all West Bank cities so people could watch Assaf perform live from the Saudi MBC-TV studios in Beirut. Viewers feel confident that Assaf, who is regularly praised by the four celebrity judges for his singing ability, is going to win the title, which will be announced Saturday night.
The winner is decided based on popular vote by cellphone. Palestinians set up committees, private and state-supported, to encourage people to vote for Assaf. Social media mobilized to support the Gaza singer.
“He’s got such a great voice that no one can ignore,” said Haytham Ibrahim, 24, as he sat with friends watching the show in the Ramallah city center and cheering with the hundreds of other people every time Assaf was singing.
This night, Assaf and the other two finalists, Ahmad Jamal from Egypt and Farah Yousef from Syria, each sang three songs. But when Assaf sang his most famous Palestinian song, "Raise High the Kaffiyeh" (a reference to the traditional Palestinian head scarf), the crowd went wild, cheering, dancing and singing along.
Palestinians are worried that, because the final result depends on public vote, the finalists who come from countries with bigger populations might have a better chance than Assaf.
“Egypt has 90 million people and we are only 4 million, and so if 10 million Egyptians vote for Jamal, then we do not have a chance. This is not fair,” said Maysa Rimawi, 33, of Ramallah.
Nevertheless, she believes that Arabs from all over the world, even Egypt, are going to vote for Assaf simply because they see him as a real talent.
A well-known Egyptian singer who appeared on the show last week said that Assaf’s voice happens only once every 50 years, and one of the judges said this week that it actually happens once every 100 years.
Palestinians campaigned for weeks in support of Assaf. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called him to show support. Billboards in the West Bank were covered with posters calling on people to vote for Assaf. The two Palestinian cellphone companies said they wouldn't charge people for their text message votes. Other companies said they would match every Palestinian vote.
“Whether Assaf wins or loses, he is already an Arab idol and he has it made,” said Rimawi, referring to reports that Assaf has already signed dozens of contracts to perform in several Arab countries, mainly the Persian Gulf states, this summer.