I was curious to see the reaction of Arabs about his victory so I browsed the web for critiques. It was difficult to find a source that spoke negatively about Assaf. How did he win the love and support of so many people? Was it simply his voice, or is there more behind this story? I came across an insightful article written by Maysoon Zaid, an American comedian, and activist of Palestinian descent. As she writes:
The story of how Mohammed Assaf got to audition in Cairo from Khan Younis is the stuff that episodes of Glee are made of. As the legend goes, Mohammed had to beg and bribe the Egyptians, at Rafah crossing, to let him out of Gaza and into Egypt. His incredible journey spanned two days and when Mohammed finally arrived in Cairo, he was too late. The gate was closed. Devastated, he called his mom to tell her he was coming home. Like a true stage mom, Entisar Assaf wasn’t having it and wouldn’t allow her son to quit. She told her child that coming home was not an option and to get his singing self over that gate by any means necessary. Apparently, all Palestinians have an inner Spider-Man and scaling walls is child’s play.
Mohammed obeyed his mama and hopped the wall. Once inside, our hero faced another roadblock. He didn’t have a contestant’s number and no number means no audition. He had come too far to give up now, so like a scene from a Broadway musical, Mo spontaneously broke out into song right in the middle of the gaggle of people waiting their turn to audition. He sang his heart out. A man from the crowd stepped forward and handed Assaf his audition number. He told Mohammed that he was just there clowning and that Mo had a real shot and could have his spot. The kid from Gaza had finally caught a break.
I was struck by how his story represents the daily struggles of Palestinians and their perseverance in achieving their dreams. His story inspires Palestinians, and all Arabs, to fight for freedom and to never lose sight of their roots even in times of hardship. Assaf’s ability to compete against all odds and his subsequent victory provided a sense of hope, a source of inspiration, and another voice for Palestinian people.
Last Thursday, the Eid in Dubai concluded with one of the most awaited events of the year, the Arab Idol Live Tour 2013. The concert was held at the Dubai World Trade Centre, featuring champion Mohammed Assaf, and the two finalists, Syrian Farah Yusuf, and Egyptian Ahmed Jamal, as well as Ragheb Alama. Details about the rest of the Arab Idol Live Tour has not been revealed to the public yet; however, Assaf’s team is working on bringing him to the United States this upcoming year.
While in Dubai, Assaf is working diligently on his first album, which will feature ten songs, and his first single to be released soon. MBC is making an autobiographical movie about Assaf’s life journey, shining a light on Palestine.
• New York Times: ‘Arab Idol’ Winner Returns to Palestine to Cheers and Unease
• The Guardian: Arab pop star adds his voice to the calls for a peace deal for Palestine
• The Next Arab Idol: Palestine’s Boy Wonder and Stereotype Buster