Monday, September 27, 2004

Arab Idols and Arab democracy 

A very interesting perspective - Tyler MacKenzie writes of the Arabic version of "American Idol" as the Middle East's equivalent of "The Federalist Papers"; the foundation stone of the drive towards free, democratic societies throughout the region:

"According to the producers of 'Super Star,' 15 million votes were cast over the summer, with 3.2 million received in just the final few days. It is unclear exactly how many individuals participated due to the laxity of the competition's rules on multiple voting, but these figures certainly indicate the involvement of a significant part of the Arab population.

"Why has this show become so wildly popular? Why have Arabs of every sect, creed and social stratum in more than a dozen countries turned to this single program? The answer lies largely in its participatory nature and appeal to a people long denied freedom of expression and representation in other spheres of life.

"To be sure, over the past century many Arab nations have experimented with democratic reforms, some going so far as to establish constitutions, regular elections and institutional checks and balances. But in the end the overwhelming tendency has been to assume the rhetoric and rituals of democracy without actually putting it in place.

"Into this environment comes an independently produced TV program that both celebrates personal achievement and puts Arab audiences at the center of the decision-making process. 'Super Star' encourages, in fact depends on, the active involvement of ordinary Arabs in a 'democratic' endeavor with real-time, mutually beneficial results. If the Arab people cannot choose their political representatives free from coercion, at least now they can select a cultural representative to champion their musical tastes."
Cat Stevens did not contest "Super Star", and even if he did it's unlikely he would have won.


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