BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Jubilant crowds gathered in the Palestinian towns of Bethlehem and Majd al-Krum on Saturday evening to watch the highly anticipated announcement of the winner of the Arab Idol singing contest in Beirut, which has had millions of viewers glued to their TV screens since November.
Arab Idol winner Yaqoub Shahin, from Bethlehem
Raucous celebrations broke out in Bethlehem, as native of the town Yaqoub Shahin was declared the winner after fans cast their votes from around the world. He is the second Palestinian to claim the title since the contest premiered in 2011.
Shahin, a Syriac-Palestinian and member of Bethlehem's small community of Assyrians, competed against fellow Palestinian Amir Dandan and Yemeni national Ammar Muhammad in the final round of the pan-Arab singing contest's fourth season. It was the first time in the program's history that two of the remaining three finalists were from the same national background.
“This title is just a name for me because my idols are my compatriot Ammar and Amir. Ammar, you’ve raised your country’s name, Yemen, very high, and I’m sure they are all proud of you,” Shahin said as the show closed.
Amir Dandan from Majd al-Krum
Yemeni singer Ammar Muhammad
Thousands crowded into Bethlehem's Manger Square and took to the streets across the southern occupied West Bank city, causing major traffic jams, as thousands more gathered in Majd al-Krum, a Palestinian town in Galilee in northern Israel, where Dandan, who now lives in the US, was born.
Bethlehem's city council had erected a giant television screen at Manger Square for the live broadcasts of both the Friday night audition when the three made their final performances, and for Saturday night’s announcement. Bethlehem also reached a subsidy agreement with local telephone company Jawwal, reducing the price of votes by SMS to 1.9 shekels ($.50), in a bid to encourage Palestinians to vote for their favorite idol.
A supporter of Dandan reacted to Shahin's victory, telling Ma'an from Manger Square that despite her disappointment over Dandan's loss, "today is a proud day for Palestine and all the Palestinian people at home and abroad," amid the sound of cracking fireworks and a chorus of car horns.
A Palestinian delegation attended the final performance in Beirut on Friday, which included Yasser Abbas, son of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, General Manager of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation Ahmad Assaf, and Bethlehem Mayor Vera Baboun.
On Thursday evening, the president also hosted the three finalists at his residence in Beirut. The ambassador of Yemen in Beirut hosted them as well.
Muhammad Assaf, a Palestinian from the besieged Gaza Strip who won the contest in 2013, was also in Beirut for Saturday's announcement. Assaf's victory was the first such success for a Palestinian entertainer and sparked an unprecedented response in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Crowds in Majd al-Krum before the announcement of Shahin as the winner
Crowds in Manger Square before the announcement of Shahin as the winner