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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 August, 2004, 13:49 GMT 14:49 UK
Pop show cuts through Arab rivalries
By Kim Ghattas
BBC News, Beirut

The results of the pan-Arab pop idol show are due to be announced on Sunday. The hugely popular singing contest, known as Super Star in the Arab world, is in its second season.

Pop rivals Ayman al-Aathar (L) and Ammar Hassan
Super Star is a rare chance for Arabs to make their votes count
Competing for this year's Super Star title are Libyan candidate Ayman al-Aathar and Palestinian Ammar Hassan.

The show was started by the Lebanese TV station Future Television and is filmed in Beirut.

In a region divided by rivalries and violence, Super Star has managed to cut across borders and bring Arabs together, whether they are Libyan, Saudi, Lebanese or Egyptian.

They may differ on who should win, but they certainly all agree that this is their favourite TV show.

"Frankly, we didn't expect that success," says organiser Ihab Hamoud. "There is a huge fragmentation in the television market in the Middle East and the biggest programme would earn 20 popularity points.

"We succeeded in reaching 50 popularity points, which is amazing.

"At one point in time, we had 98% market share in Lebanon, and for the first episode of this series, we had 50% market share in Saudi Arabia."

Welcome distraction

While the organisers may worry about ratings, fans are agonising about who will win the contest.

Will it be Ammar, the 26-year-old Palestinian with a degree in music? He has been described as another symbol for the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation.

People really think they can vote and affect the outcome, which isn't the case in political elections
Newspaper editor Rami Khouri
Or will it be Ayman, the cute Libyan studying to be a dentist, who has taken his country by surprise?

One fan said: "I like the idea that someone who's nobody can go on TV and make something of themselves and have fun, and you can be a part of that every Sunday.

"There's so many problems in this region and everybody needs something to get their minds off these kind of things, so they just like this kind of show to take their minds away from it and just party."

The show may be a welcome distraction from the region's many problems, but somehow politics and nationalism still play a big role when the time comes to vote for the contestants.

Rare opportunity

Because of regional tensions, the Libyans will not vote for the Lebanese and the Jordanians will not vote for the Syrians, but everybody watching will vote.

"You know, Arab people don't often get a chance to vote for something and have their vote count," says Rami Khouri, editor of Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper.

"People really think they can vote and affect the outcome, which isn't the case in political elections. I think another reason is that there is this sort of nationalistic element.

"I mean, you're voting for representatives from countries and that instinctively gives people a reason to get excited, emotionally and politically."

All the fans of the show are now eagerly waiting to see who will be crowned as this year's Arab Super Star.

But support for Ammar or Ayman may well end with the season's finale. Last year's Super Star, Jordanian Diana Karazon, is still waiting for her singing career to take off.

Libya stunned by 'idol' success
26 Aug 04  |  Middle East
In pictures: Arab Pop Idol finale
23 Aug 04  |  In Pictures
Jordanian wins Arab 'Idol'
18 Aug 03  |  Entertainment

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