Syrian Arab Idol winner refuses to take sides

Syrian Arab Idol winner refuses to take sides
Hazem Shareef insists on neutrality as victory in pop contest turns political, with regime claiming him as a supporter and opposition websites saying his father was victim of regime sniper.
2 min read
16 December, 2014
Shareef sang 'My Country' after his victory [Supplied photo]

The Arab Idol pop competition has for a second year turned political, with this year's Syrian winner being claimed by both sides in the civil conflict despite remaining neutral.

Many watching Saturday’s finale were waiting to see which flag Hazem Shareef, from Aleppo, would raise. The current Syrian flag would denote his support for the regime. Raising the opposition's flag, which dates back to the mandate, would however raise questions about his respect for Syria's struggle for independence.

In the end, the 21-year-old raised neither and he has since declined to say whether he is on the side of Bashar al-Assad or the Syrian opposition in the nearly four year civil war that has killed more than 200,000 people. 

     Shareef said Syria was his homeland, and called on God to 'put an end to suffering of Syrians'.

Mazen Hayek, the spokesman of the Saudi MBC network, which organised the competition, said the channel banned contestants from raising the flags of their countries.

Hayek added that last year’s winner Mohammed Assaf, a young Palestinian from the occupied Gaza Strip, was able to raise the Palestinian flag due to a "technical error".

After being announced the winner this year, Shareef sang Baktob Ismik ya Biladi ("I Write Your Name, My Country"), by the Lebanese artist Nahawand. Shareef added the word Syria to the lyrics.

Shareef said Syria was his homeland, and called on God to "put an end to suffering of Syrians".

His refusal to takes sides did not deter the warring parties adding their own .

Pro-opposition websites claimed the Assad regime killed Shareef's father.
All for Syria said his father was killed by a sniper on 15 September, 2012 in Aleppo.

The Syrian state news agency, Sana, meanwhile congratulated Shareef as "the son of Aleppo, who won thanks to a very special voice".

The agency said the Shareef choice of victory song hinted at his love for the "old" Syria and that he did not agree with the revolution.

Shareef's victory was feted in the government-controlled side of Aleppo, with men firing shots in the air to celebrate, and women ululating. There were also celebrations in regime-controlled Damascus, where people waved Syrian flags as they watched the live broadcast from Beirut.

This is an edited translation from the original Arabic.