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'Arab Idol' talent show win sends Palestinians into raptures

By Nidal Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - Palestinians took to the streets to celebrate the victory of their compatriot Yaqoub Shaheen on Saturday in "Arab Idol", a hugely popular Middle East television talent show on the Dubai-based channel MBC1.

This year's final, filmed in Lebanon, was between a Yemeni, Ammar Mohammed, and two Palestinian competitors, Shaheen from Bethlehem and Ameer Dandan from the town of Majd al-Krum in Israel but resident in the United States.

After he was named as the winner, Shaheen performed a patriotic song while wearing the Palestinian flag on his shoulders, singing the line: "My pledge and my oath, my blood is Palestinian".

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In Gaza and in the occupied West Bank thousands of people had filled restaurants and street coffee shops, many of them having reserved their seats in advance, in order to watch the final on large public screens.

"It is a national day. A national historic day for Palestine," said Mohammed Abu Ali, 40, sitting with his wife and three children in a cafe in Gaza watching the final.

People watching the show in public hugged one another, cheered and whistled as Shaheen was named the 2017 Arab Idol.

Dozens of taxi drivers touring the streets across Gaza honked their horns and played some of the songs performed by the winning singer during the weeks-long program.

The winner of the show, based on the British show "Pop Idol", is chosen by the audience, which votes by text message. Palestinian and Yemeni politicians urged supporters to vote in support of their favored candidates and phone companies offered special deals to encourage voting.

On Friday, the first night of the final, a high-profile Palestinian delegation led by the president's son attended the show at the MBC studios in Beirut.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who was also in Lebanon for an official visit, hosted the three finalists at his embassy's residence.

Inside the studio many Yemenis were also present for the final, wearing traditional clothes in support of Mohammed and chanting and dancing, but to no avail.

"There are faces of victory, political and musical. Today it is musical, but we hope one day we will have our political victory," said Abu Ali, the Palestinian man celebrating with his family in Gaza.

(Reporting By Nidal Mughrabi; Writing by Angus McDowall)

 
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