A wedding singer from a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip has become the first Palestinian to win Arab Idol, in a contest which has captivated millions of viewers, including President Mahmoud Abbas.
Mohammed Assaf, 23, beat finalists Egyptian Ahmed Jamal and a Syrian woman, Farah Youssef on Saturday in the singing competition broadcast by the Saudi-owned MBC Group.
Viewers from across the region voted for their favourites.
Shortly after winning, the young singer saluted the people of Palestine, “who have been suffering under occupation for decades.”
President Mahmoud Abbas had earlier spoken to Assaf by phone and instructed Palestinian embassies abroad to urge expatriates to vote for him, calling the singer “the pride of the Palestinian and Arab nation”.
Immediately after his win, Assaf was named Youth Ambassador for UNRWA, the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, and named Palestinian goodwill ambassador by President Mahmud Abbas and reportedly gave him a diplomatic passport.
Across Gaza, an impoverished territory ruled by Hamas, people gathered around TV screens at home, in coffee shops and in seaside cafes to watch Assaf perform for the last time.
The Bank of Palestine threw money into a campaign to see him win, promising to match up to 350,000 texted votes – each one costs 40 cents – for Assaf.