Bethlehem going all out for Arab Idol

Yacoub Shaheen ... hot favorite
Updated 24 February 2017
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Bethlehem going all out for Arab Idol

AMMAN: The Palestinian city of Bethlehem is going all out this week in support of the town’s nominee to the television music contest “Arab Idol.”
Yacoub Shaheen, the city’s beloved son, will be competing on Friday along with fellow Palestinian Ameer Dandan and the Yemeni Ammar Mohammed.
The city council has decided to erect a giant television screen at Nativity Square for both the Friday night audition and the Saturday event’s announcement of the finalist winner.
The public has been invited to come to the square to celebrate the program.
Mohammed Assaf, the winner of the second season of “Arab Idol,” is expected to be a guest singer at the music event.
Fadi Ghattas, press officer at Bethlehem Municipality, told Arab News that the city is supportive of Shaheen, who is well known locally.
“Yacoub has been our favorite musical guest for years. He has sung at Christmas events, (a) diaspora conference and many other public events,” Ghattas said. “Ameer Dandan and Yacoub Shaheen are sons of Palestine. No matter which … wins, Palestine will be victorious.”
Ghattas says that the municipality has reached an agreement with the local Palestinian cellphone company Jawwal to help increase the number of votes. “Jawwal agreed to lower the cost of the votes via SMS to 1.9 shekels (50 cents) for the Palestinian candidates.” he said.
To show support for Yacoub, the mayor of Bethlehem has decided to attend the “Arab Idol” final. “Mayor Vera Baboun will be traveling to the Lebanese capital Beirut to be in the audience at the final competition for MBC’s fourth season of its flagship talent program,” Ghattas said.
While Shaheen has been a popular participant in the pan-Arab talent show, some Palestinians are worried that votes for Palestinian singers might be split thus helping the Yemeni participant overcome both of them.
Tania, a young Palestinian from Ramallah, told Arab News that she is worried that neither Shaheen nor Dandan will win. “I have been following Yacoub and Ameer from day one and I am really worried that neither will win because of the danger of wasted votes,” the 24-year-old Palestinian said.
Dandan, who was born in the Galilee village of Majd Al-Krum, has been living in the US.
Another Majd Al-Krum son, Haitham Khalailah, reached the finals in the third season of “Arab Idol” in 2014 only to lose to Syrian singer Hazem Sharif.
Joseph Shaheen, Yacoub’s father, is not worried. Speaking to Arab News by phone from his home in Bethlehem, Shaheen Sr. said that his son has been asked to perform in future concerts by the “Arab Idol” maker MBC.
“By reaching the finals Yacoub has already won. MBC has signed him up for many concerts in the coming months in Sweden, Germany and the US, regardless of the result in the final competition.”
Joseph Shaheen said that his son has been singing since he was a child. “He used to sing at the Freres School where he went, at the Syrian Church and at all kinds of public events. We sent him to the Edward Said Conservatory in Ramallah where he spent two years learning music and being able to read notes.”
Joseph Shaheen said his son had been under a lot of pressure and suffered in the past few weeks with inflammation in his vocal chords. The contestant also had a high fever, but he is much better now as he prepares for the finale, Shaheen Sr. said.
Shaheen told Arab News that his son, who calls him almost nightly, had urged cash-strapped Palestinians to save their money. “He told me, ‘I have lots of supporters around the world, please tell people not to spend their money for me,’” he said. But Shaheen Sr. said that people were voting out of love and support to Yacoub and were doing it voluntarily and happily.
One source of many votes has been the Assyrian community around the world. Shaheen, whose ancestors came from northern Syria, has been getting votes from Sweden and other countries that host a considerable Assyrian community.
Yacoub Shaheen’s popularity has been credited to his vocal skills, especially in the “mawwal” genre of Arabic music. His mawwal was so popular that midway through the competition Egyptian Hassan El-Shafei, one of the “Arab Idol” judges, called Yacoub’s voice intoxicating. “Your voice should be banned from people because it is intoxicating. I was hoping that your song today would be the final song because I don’t want to have any other song in my memory.”
Lebanese music star Wael Kfoury said that Shaheen has all the elements of a star. “I would like to reserve from now tickets to your upcoming concerts,” Kfoury said.
The “Arab Idol” final will take place in Beirut on Friday and will be broadcast on MBC1. The winning announcement of this season’s Arab Idol will be made the following evening in a program that will be screened on a huge screen in Bethlehem’s Nativity Square. If Shaheen wins, the people of this Palestinian city will have a badly needed opportunity to celebrate.


90-year anniversary: How the Arab world came to know Tintin and Popeye

Updated 18 January 2019
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90-year anniversary: How the Arab world came to know Tintin and Popeye

  • Middle Eastern fans fondly look back at two comic icons who share a birthday this year, although they’re not without controversy
  • An Egyptian publisher printed Tintin in Arabic, while Popeye was broadcast on Saudi Channel 2 and Spacetoon

Popeye, the scruffy sailor who remains one of the most loveable characters of all time, has been a popular fixture in Middle Eastern pop culture since the early 1980s. In addition to mountains of merchandise, particularly stuffed toys, being available in local shops, the cartoons were broadcast on Saudi Channel 2 (in their original English) and on Spacetoon (with Arabic dubbing). 
“I remember the first time I watched Popeye,” Zainab Basrawi, a 36-year-old insurance lawyer and self-professed Popeye enthusiast, told Arab News. “I learned to love spinach just from watching him save Olive every time. I believed him. I think he was a great influence on children to subtly ease them into eating their greens.”
Just one week after Tintin first appeared in “Le Petit Vingtieme,” Popeye made his debut on Jan. 17, 1929 as a side character in the daily King Features comic strip “Thimble Theatre.”
Created by the American cartoonist Elzie Crisler Segar, the one-eyed sailor with bulging forearms quickly grew in popularity, becoming the star of his own strip, an animated TV cartoon and a 1980 movie starring
Robin Williams. The theme song from the cartoon, “I’m Popeye the Sailorman,” is one of the most recognized pieces of music in pop culture history.
Compared to boyish, clean-cut, good- natured Tintin, Popeye is his polar opposite.
The sailor is rough, gruff and extremely tough, famous for the super-strength he gets from eating canned spinach, and his never-ending love triangle with his girlfriend Olive Oyl and rival Bluto.
Like Tintin, as a relic from another era, Popeye has also been criticized for racial stereotypes. In “Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba and His Forty Thieves,” he is shown beating up poorly made caricatures of Arab men. In “You’re a Sap, Mr. Jap,” the Japanese characters in the cartoon get the same treatment.
However, literary critic Sophie Cline said the comic strip is reflective of the time it was created in, almost a century ago. “I think it’s important not to ignore these pieces of our history, or hide them away, but rather to own up to our mistakes and learn from them,” she told Arab News.
She alluded to the new disclaimer that now precedes old Looney Tunes cartoons, informing viewers that their outdated “racial prejudices” no longer reflect Warner Bros. values but are “products of their time.”
“Popeye cartoons reflect the common view of the era,” she said. “A disclaimer should be enough.”

Tintin, one of the world’s most famous fictional journalists, traveled the world seeking stories and adventure, so he naturally spent a good amount of time in the Middle East.
Created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, better known by his pseudonym Herge (say his initials in reverse out loud in a French accent), Tintin travels the region in four of his books: “Cigars of the Pharaoh,” “The Crab with the Golden Claws,” “Land of Black Gold” and “The Red Sea Sharks.”
Tintin gained more of a foothold in the region when Egyptian publisher Dar Al-Maarif began printing the comics in Arabic in 1971. Renaming him “Tantan,” Dar Al-Maarif continued to publish the comics weekly
until 1980.
“Tintin has been one of my idols for as long as I can remember,” said Haytham Faisal, a journalist from Cairo. “I literally became a journalist because I wanted to be him. My dad used to take me to buy the comics from the local bookstore. I remember them being so expensive, so they were a rare treat. I’d always think twice before buying them, but I couldn’t always wait for the next comic to see what new story they have next. I still have some of them, they were that precious to me.”
Before appearing in book format, Tintin and his constant companion, the dog Snowy, were first introduced to audiences in “Le Petit Vingtieme,” or “The Little Twentieth,” a supplement to the Belgian newspaper “Le Vingtieme Siecle” (The Twentieth Century) on Jan. 4, 1929. Herge, however, maintained that Tintin was actually “born” on Jan. 10, when “Tintin in the Land of the Soviets” began its serialization in the paper.
Despite the fact that he never seems to hand in any stories, the loveable and quirky Tintin is portrayed as talented at his profession, so much so that he is shown to be in high demand, with many press agencies offering him bribes for his dispatches.
Over the years, Tintin’s face has been used to advertise quintessentially French items such as Citroen cars and La Vache Qui Rit cheese. Enthusiasts of Tintin lore, known as Tintinolo- gists, have written entire books devoted to him.
Since 1929, more than 250 million copies of the Tintin comic books have been sold. His adventures have been translated in more than 110 languages, and the books are sold in almost every country in the world.
Tintin continues to grow in popularity, even 90 years on. He was the star of a full-length feature film, directed by Steven Spielberg, in 2011 and of an animated television series. The latter was broadcast on Saudi Channel 2 between 1991 and 1992 and a dubbed version has been on MBC 3 since 2003.
However, the history of Tintin has not been without its hiccups. Over the years, critics have argued that, like many of the comics of the era, it should undergo censorship or even outright banning from bookstores and libraries. One of the more troublesome ones is his second adventure, “Tintin in the Congo.”
The natives Tintin visits are crude stereo- types of African people, who are portrayed as ignorant and uneducated, and the references to slavery, such as when the natives refer to Tintin as “master,” make the comics hard to stomach.
Similarly, “Land of Black Gold,” which takes place in a fictional Red Sea state named Khemed, is also banned in several Middle Eastern countries today for its stereotypical portrayal of Arabs.
While some argue the comics are simply byproducts of their era, they are nonetheless somewhat difficult to revisit in the modern era. Attempts have been made to soften some of the references, with edits being made to “Tintin in the Congo” in 1975, but is that enough?
Not according to the London-based human rights lawyer David Enright, who wrote in the Guardian newspaper that “Tintin in the Congo” shouldn’t be sold to children. “Books are precious, but so are the minds of young children. It is vital that our children learn and explore the grotesque history of slavery, racism and anti-Semitism, but in the proper context of the school curriculum.”