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06/21/2013

Kid from refugee camp becomes singing sensation on Arab Idol

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                                                                    Facebook images of Mohammed Assaf

Very little good news comes out of the Middle East these days, so here's one. 

A 23-year-old kid from a refugee camp in Gaza has become a regional celebrity and a source of Palestinian pride as a contestant on Arab Idol. 

Mohammed Assaf is singing tonight in the finale of the talent show broadcast in Beirut, Lebanon as millions of fans all over the Arab world gather to watch his traditional songs. Some cafes in the West Bank city of Ramallah are even offering to text a vote for every cup of coffee that customers order, Reuters reported. 

One fan tweeted that he “unites Palestinians as the legendary Arab singers of the past once did” while another added, “he brings out the best in us.”

Assaf grew up in the Khan Younis refugee camp in the Gaza Strip where he lives with his parents and six siblings. He sings at weddings. 

Politicians are galvanizing around Assaf too, perhaps hoping a bit of his stardust will rub off.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has encouraged the Palestinian diaspora to vote for Assaf, and instructed the ministry of foreign affairs to contact its embassies around the world in an effort to mobilize support for the young star, Maan news agency in Lebanon reported. 

He has been described as charming and indeed Assaf thanked Palestinian leaders for coming to watch him perform .

"Their presence gave me more energy to move on and sing better and represent Palestine in its beautiful image," he told Maan. Assaf is up against three other contestants, including a young Syrian woman. The winner will be announced on Saturday.

 This YouTube video alone has been watched 3.4 million times. 

 

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at The Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is the author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour

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