On Saturday, February 25, thousands of Palestinians gathered in Manger Square, across the street from the Church of the Nativity commemorating the location of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, Palestine. There, in Manger Square, a large screen was erected so Bethlehemites can cheer on their local hero, Yacoub Shaheen, who was competing against other Arabs in a show called Arab Idol.
What’s Arab Idol?
Arab Idol is the successor of a previous Arab rendition of the British Pop Idol series called Super Star. This British show, Pop Idol, is also where we also get our American Idol television show.
Arab Idol first premiered in Beirut, Lebanon on December 9, 2011. Since then it has had four seasons and is broadcast worldwide on the Arabic television channel, MBC.
The concept is similar to American Idol. It starts off with numerous young contestants from all over the Arab world who are selected after auditions. They perform in front of judges and viewers can vote for their favorites via SMS or phone call. Whoever receives the least amount of votes is voted off until there is one winner.
The winner receives a recording contract, a car, and the equivalent of $50k USD.
The first season saw Carmen Suleiman from Egypt be crowned as the winner. Season two’s winner was Mohammed Assaf from Gaza, Palestine. The third season’s winner was Hazem Shareef from Syria. Season four just wrapped up on February 25. The winner was Yacoub Shaheen from Bethlehem, Palestine. He beat out Ameer Dandan from Israel and Ammar Mohammed from Yemen.
What’s an Israeli Arab?
Ammar is an Arab Muslim from Yemen. Pretty simple.
Ameer is an Arab American Muslim from Israel. Confused?
Let me explain. Ameer is an Israeli Arab from Majd al-Krum in Israel. His religion is Islam, his ethnicity is Arab, his nationality is Palestinian, his citizenship is Israeli. On top of that, he lives in the United States. Still confused? Majd al-Krum is an Arab village in Northern Israel, in the Galilee area. Majd al-Krum village was conquered by Jewish militias in 1948 and therefore is part of Israel. Its Arab inhabitants are Muslims who are Israeli citizens.
Although most of Majd al-Krum’s residents in 1948 stayed, Arab residents of other Israeli towns who fled the fighting in 1948 were never allowed to return. To this day, they, their children, and their grandchildren are refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine. Although Israeli, Ameer identifies as Palestinian, it’s a fine line that many Israeli Arabs walk. It’s a line between Israeli Jews, who are the dominant force in Israel, and the Israeli Arab’s Palestinian relatives, who live under occupation by Israeli Jews.
Who is Yacoub Shaheen?
Yacoub Shaheen is a Palestinian Arab Christian from Bethlehem. Yacoub was born in Bethlehem on February 27, 1994. He’s a descendant of Syriac Christians and currently serves as a Deacon in the Syriac Church in Bethlehem and as a Scout Leader through his church’s club. He learned to play various instruments as a child and attended the Edward Said Music Conservatory in Palestine. Yacoub grew up participating in school festivals and singing competitions.
He studied at Palestine Polytechnic University in Hebron and owns a fashion shop in Bethlehem. His father crafts Christian olive wood souvenirs and his mother works at Bethlehem University. In 2005, he won the title of Star of Palestine and in 2012 he won first place in Palestinian New Star, both are Palestinian television shows similar to Arab Idol.
Yacoub is not only known in Bethlehem for being a talented singer, but also for being a humble servant. He spends a lot of time volunteering his musical skills and abilities to teach orphans and disabled children and gives a significant amount of money to charities in Palestine. His humbleness was shown to the entire Arab world when he fully accepted harsh critiques from judges without becoming defensive. At one point in the show, a particularly harsh judge apologized for her unnecessarily sharp words on an earlier episode. Yacoub told her that no apology was necessary and that her words and advice pushed him to be better.
“Yacoub won with his voice, his education, his good manners, as well as his love for his people, Bethlehem and Palestine,” she said. – Norma Shaheen
Why is this important?
This is important because Arab Idol, the most viewed show in the Arab world, showed two cross sections of the Middle East that are rarely ever seen. First, an Israeli Arab/Palestinian, competed on stage against Arabs from all over the Middle East. Second and more profoundly, Yacoub, a Palestinian Christian who was born and raised under Israeli occupation in Bethlehem, won the title of Arab Idol. It’s profound because not only have Arab Christians been under assault in the Middle East but because the Arab world voted for him. In other words, there aren’t enough Christians in the Arab world to have enabled Yacoub to win if he only received votes from Christians. Not only did Muslims cheer him on via social media, but they also voted for him to win. This has served as a unique opportunity to unite Arabs across the Middle East in rooting for a Christian, and also has had the affect of uniting Muslim and Christian Palestinians themselves as brothers and sisters.
Congratulations, Yacoub, the newest Arab Idol!