Missing voices in Eurovision: Why Arab countries refuse to compete

Missing voices in Eurovision: Why Arab countries refuse to compete
The Eurovision Song Contest's highly anticipated 67th edition is set to captivate audiences in Liverpool on Saturday. The New Arab sheds light on previous Arab participation and the reason for its discontinuation.
4 min read
13 May, 2023
The Eurovision Song Contest will be hosted in Liverpool this year [Getty]

The highly anticipated 67th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest is set to captivate audiences in Liverpool on Saturday, with an array of singers and performers from across Europe competing for the coveted title.

The annual song contest, which features kitsch and often over-the-top performances, has garnered a significant following over the years, with millions of viewers tuned in every year.

The competition is open to all members of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which includes 66 broadcasters from 54 countries, some of which are located in the Middle East and North Africa region, South America and even Oceania.

However, amid the glitz and glamour, one intriguing aspect that often sparks debate is the participation of non-European countries. While the majority of contestants hail from European nations, the inclusion of Israel has drawn attention and scrutiny.

The participation of Israel, which has competed 45 times and won the contest four times, garnered significant criticism from rights campaigners and the Arab world, with its membership marred by ongoing conflicts and tensions in the region, including the occupation of Palestinian territories and the recurrent violence against the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

In particular, Israel’s recent hosting of the competition in 2019 prompted widespread calls for boycott. Similar calls for Israeli withdrawal from the competition have been made this year.

Absence of Arab participation

The absence of Arab countries in the Eurovision Song Contest has also been a topic of discussion. While countries like Morocco and Tunisia have participated in the past, their involvement had been limited.

Morocco participated for the first and only time in 1980, with famed songstress Samia Said performing the Arabic-language song Bitaqat Hob (Love Card) in the Dutch city of The Hague. The contest was broadcast in the North African kingdom via Morocco's National Company of Radio and Television (SNRT).

Said finished a mere second to last in the competition, having only received seven points. However, she remains the competition’s first and only singer to perform in the Arabic language. Her song was intended to transmit a message of "peace among the world's nations".

Despite the less-than-stellar result, Said’s career took off soon after and went on to become one of Morocco – and the Arab world’s – most recognisable recording artists.

Morocco’s then-ruler, King Hassan II, reportedly withdrew Rabat’s participation from the contest the following year, saying that the country will never participate again.

The reasons behind the withdrawal were not explicitly given, but there are a few possible explanations. One factor could be the low placement of Morocco's entry, which could have been perceived as a lack of interest or support from the international Eurovision community.

It may have also been influenced by political tensions and solidarity with other Arab nations who had chosen not to engage with Israel on various platforms.

This political factor remained the same for the absence of many Arab countries from Eurovision.

In 1977, Tunisia attempted to take part in the content but withdrew shortly before as national broadcaster ERTT did not want to "broadcast Israeli content" on its channels, reportedly.

A similar incident occurred in 2005 when Lebanon – who prepared to take part in the competition with singer Aline Lahoud – pulled out from the competition.

The Lebanese public broadcaster Tele Liban, had failed to reach an agreement with the EBU who requested that they broadcast the entire show, including the Israeli entry. Lebanese law, however, prohibits the broadcasting of anything affiliated with Israel.

No other MENA countries have attempted entry since.

Participation of the Arab diaspora

Not all hope is lost, as members of the MENA diaspora have taken part in the competition.

Tunisia was somewhat represented in 1991. France’s competing singer and runner-up, Amina Annabi, was of Franco-Tunisian descent. The Carthage-born artist sang Le Dernier Qui a Parlé (The Last Who Spoke) and finished with 146 points.

Swedish songstress Loreen, who was born to Moroccan parents, has represented the Scandinavian country - and Moroccan heritage - on two occasions. In 2012, she won the contest with her song 'Euphoria', which topped charts in 16 countries across Europe. 

The singer, whose real name is Lorine Zineb Nora Talhaoui, will be seen again this year, and is tipped to be among the favourites to win. Her song entry 'Tattoo', features the singer clad in a traditional Amazigh headpiece,  traditionally worn in southwestern Morocco.

Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon, Jordan, and Libya, as members of the EBU, have the eligibility to submit entries to the Eurovision Song Contest.

While no official attempts have been made since Morocco's participation, the potential for Arab representation in the future remains an exciting prospect.

In the meantime, members of the Arab diaspora continue to make their mark, showcasing their heritage and musical prowess. The Eurovision Song Contest remains a platform where nations can come together, celebrate diversity, and bridge cultural gaps through the universal language of music.