At the onset of the week of April 21-25, Arab social media users were already discussing the latest episodes of Arab Idol, which aired on the weekend of April 19-20. Arab Idol was the top discussed topic this week, although the most comment-generating subject was politics.
News from Iraq appeared on four of the week’s five days, and was heightened by the Iraqi army’s raid on a Sunni protesters’ camp in the city of Hawija, south of Kirkuk. A wave of violence ripped through Iraq after the Iraqi army clashed with Sunni protesters denouncing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government. Some users attacked the Iraqi forces and regime, and the raid on Hawija city where protesters camped in the streets. User Iraqi to the Core said: “Claiming that there are armed protesters is a pretext to raid the protester camps. And the so-called Maliki follows only Iran’s orders, and Iran is the de facto ruler of Iraq…”
Iraqi users from across the country fumed at the volatile situation in Iraq, especially after protesters threatened to launch a military counterstrike. User Ahmed Samir Dhahi Dhahi commented: “God curse and damn whoever calls for sectarianism!”
Some described the Hawija raids as a “crime against humanity,” committed by the Iraqi army and aided by Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Some users tried to mitigate the tension by urging the army soldiers to renounce their weapons and join the peaceful protests to face the sectarian war that “Maliki and Iran” wanted to spark. Ali al-Tamimi wrote: “What is the difference between the criminal Maliki and Saddam? Why shut our eyes to the facts. It is only a matter of time, and Maliki and his fellows will burn.”
MBC’s pan-Arab vocal competition Arab Idol topped the Art category this week, appearing twice and generating 76,838 comments. Users mainly followed the show’s updates after 13 finalists were shortlisted to compete for the title and news of Palestinian contestant Mohamed Assaf who, according to users, is the top contender for the title.
Several users criticized Arab Idol for not including contestants to represent most Arab countries in the third round, despite the presence of Kurdish contestant Parawas Hussein. Several Moroccan and Algerian users said the show should be boycotted because it focuses on talents from Egypt and the Levant only. Some others accused the judges panel of bias to particular Arab nationalities. YouTube viewer Ahla Simo wrote: “It’s a shame that a powerful voice like Jamal Abad’s doesn’t get qualified. The judging panel is unjust. No matter what, Moroccans will always be on top, you haters! Jamal, you remain in our hearts. A salute to the free Arabs! See you next year God willing!”
Similarly, users took pride in their nationalities on the social media, as Iraqi users of all sects declared their support for Mohannad Marsoumi. User Ahmed expressed his support to Marsoumi: “We all support you Mohannad! Kurds, Arabs, Turkmens, Kaldanis, Ashurians. We all belong to one Iraq, with no difference!”
Palestinian users expressed strong support for Mohamed Assaf and wished he won the title. YouTube viewer Mohammed Ismail cheered: “The best voice I’ve ever heard in my life. He can perform all the music tones. Mohamed Assaf is the Arab Idol!”
Assaf’s fans on social media were proud that a Palestinian young man succeeded in reaching an advanced round of the competition, in spite of having suffered a health scare and spending time in intensive care at hospital. Some were happy at Assaf’s growing popularity across the Arab world. Reham Ehab said: “He made us raise our heads up high! God bless you… Keep moving forward”
Religion was the third most discussed category this week, thanks to prominent Arab preachers’ active social media presence. Saudi cleric and Islamic scholar Salman al-Odah reconnected with followers on the social media after a short hiatus. Following in the footsteps of Egyptian preacher Amr Khaled, Sheikh Odah started his own podcast, Wasam (Hashtag), which airs every week on YouTube. The fifth episode of Wasam received over 1.3 million views. The episode focused on favoritism in the workplace and the negative impact on business. The scholar also took to Facebook and Twitter to exhort fans to loosen up their “hardened hearts”. Tweeter Ali al-Dhufairy spoke favorable of the program: “Dr. Salman al-Odah approaches matters the way he likes. In each #Hashtag he lifts some miseries like no-one else.”
Some users, however, slammed Sheikh Odah as contradictory, saying that he pressed people to do good deeds, when he himself caused “sedition” by urging people to disobey their rulers. Reader Mishoo Naughtyboy wrote: “They criticize the public but forget about themselves.”
On the other hand, some users supported his view in Wasam episode about favoritism in the kingdom’s institutions. Those users expressed frustration at the critics of whoever tried to resist corruption. YouTube user Ahmed al-Amal wrote: “The policy followed here is attacking whoever goes the opposite direction. Either they describe him as liberal or slam him as Shiite, or worse, supported by Qaeda and Iran.”
In addition to Sheikh al-Odah, Sheikh Mohammad Al-Arifi is the second Saudi preacher to make it into this week’s Top 5 topics in the Society category. Sheikh Arifi’s posts on Facebook and Twitter cover a wide array of topics – religious, social, and political.
The sheikh, who is an outspoken supporter of the Syrian uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, condemned the Syrian regime’s “massacres”, and accused Hezbollah and Iran of being involved in the bloodshed in Syria. The cleric tweeted: “A whole neighborhood in Homs, Syria [abolished]. Iran, Hezbullat (Devil’s Party), and Bashar collaborated to kill us. Borders separate them but they are united by their hatred to the grandchildren of Prophet Mohammad’s Companions and despise of Sunnis.”
Users’ prayers for Syria flooded Arifi’s social networks, as they asked God to help the rebels defeat President Assad’s troops. Meanwhile, many users attacked Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood for “killing”, “torturing”, and “arresting” protesters and condemned Arifi for turning a blind eye to the practices of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Arifi, yet again, denied his affiliation to any political party or religious group, but reiterated his appreciation of those who work under the guide of Islamism.
On a similar note, Arifi released a new episode of his show Leave Your Fingerprint, which he filmed in Egypt. The episode centered on the Islamic notion of lowering one’s gaze, as Sheikh Arifi asked Muslims to follow this tradition. Facebooker Dalia Makkawe commented: “It was a wonderful episode. You did a great job sheikh. Egypt is honored that you filmed the episode here.”
Some users argued if they were required to lower their gazes while watching TV talent shows. Some denounced Arifi for focusing on “minor” issues instead of urging people to join jihad.
Meanwhile, the European football Champions League semifinals attracted Arab social media users who eagerly followed the first leg of the tournament’s semifinals. The Champions League appeared twice in the past week and generated 33,010 comments. Arab users firstly discussed Spanish club FC Barcelona’s 0-4 defeat by German giants Bayern Munich. The next day, they dished on Barcelona rival Real Madrid’s game with German club Borussia Dortmund, which ended in a 4-0 win for the Germans.
In the first match, users were depressed by Barcelona’s poor performance and many blamed the coach for their “unacceptable” heavy loss. Adel Abdul Jabbar commented: “Yes Barca were sick today, and it is the coach’s fault. I hope they make up for the loss soon.”
Some acknowledged Barcelona’s weak play and Bayern’s excellence in the game, yet criticized the referee who ruled for two disallowed goals for the German team. Tweep Hamdy posted: “I admit that Bayern played a better game than Barca, and deserves to win. But a goal was actually and offside, and another was a foul. That’s too much!”
In the next match, Arabs contemplated Spanish giants Real Madrid after being quashed 1-4 by German club Borussia Dortmund. Depression renewed, but this time following Real Madrid’s heavy and “disastrous” loss. Some, however, reaffirmed their confidence in their team, saying that this particular loss was just a “gaffe” that they would soon overcome. Facebooker Sameer Al Asmi wrote: “The Real will return fresh and in form, and they will win the Cup.”
Others noted that Germans demonstrated vivid excellence over the Spaniards after defeating the giants FC Barcelona and Real Madrid two days in a row. YouTube user Omzar10 noted: “The Germans have really crushed the Spaniards. They play to the last breath and last minute. This is why they are superior.”