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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 August, 2004, 23:20 GMT 00:20 UK
Libya stunned by 'idol' success
By Rana Jawad
BBC, Tripoli

The Libyan winner of the Pan-Arab version of Pop Idol - Super Star - has generated a fan-base in his country that has left some Libyans stunned and others with a sense of growing excitement.

Libyan Superstar contestant Ayman al-Aathar gives the thumbs up to fans in Beirut
Ayman made to the competition through tears and a lot of determination
Libya is not exactly famous for a thriving entertainment industry.

However, competitions like the Lebanese-based Super Star have unveiled a hidden talent in what was, until recently, one of the most isolated of countries in the world.

Ayman al-Aathar - who won the competition's final round on Sunday - is still in university, studying to become a dentist.

While it is rare in the Arab world for a medical student to turn into a singer, it was perhaps foreseen in his case.

His first appearance on television was at the tender age of nine, when he sang a nationalistic song entitled Watani ya Watani or My Nation, Oh my Nation.

But his recent rise to stardom was not an easy task.

Arriving too late in Cairo for an audition, a tearful but determined Ayman jumped on a plane to Jordan where he was chosen as one of the 14 finalists out of the 80 applicants.

Scramble to vote

His dedication was not wasted, as he was kept in the competition by viewers across the Arab world in week after week of audience voting.

He represents the closest image of Libyans in his simplicity, his love for people and good sportsmanship
Libyan fan
It was particularly difficult for Libyans to vote for their candidate during the first month because of a lack of direct phone lines.

So they scrambled to internet cafes and voted online to ensure that their favourite contestant remained.

All around the capital, posters of Ayman al-Aathar have sprung up on the windows of almost every record store and are seen hanging in music stalls throughout Tripoli's markets.

Some Libyans told me that internet cafes were making it mandatory for customers to vote online for the 20-year old singer.

Screaming fans

The country's support for Ayman was elaborately displayed during the two-day visit to Tripoli of the two finalists.

Fans surround Ayman El-Aathar [right] and Palestinian fellow contestant Ammar Hassan
The throngs of fans have stunned the contestants
An unexpected turnout of fans at the airport stunned Lebanese producers of the show and Libyan onlookers alike.

Even more unexpected was the turnout at the Corinthia hotel - where the contestants were staying - as fans from the young to the elderly screamed out "Ayman! Ayman!" and ran towards him for an autograph and pictures.

The finalists even met the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who reportedly expressed great pride in their success, but pointed out that such events were distracting people from the on-going conflicts in Iraq and the Palestinian territories.

Era of openness?

This is the first time that Libyans have expressed a keen interest in an area that deviates from the norms of the country's traditional and conservative lifestyle.

There were originally two Libyan contestants in Super Star, one of whom was dropped early on in the competition.

So, what made Ayman the country's favourite?

One Libyan woman told me: "He represents the closest image of Libyans in his simplicity, his love for people and good sportsmanship."

Conservative Libya may not be ready to host Western pop stars, but competitions like Super Star are spelling out a new era of openness that has been absent for more than three decades.

In pictures: Arab Pop Idol finale
23 Aug 04  |  In Pictures
Jordanian wins Arab 'Idol'
18 Aug 03  |  Entertainment

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