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Millions’ Poet, Women’s Rights

May 16, 2009

Millions’ Poet, an American-Idol-style poetry competition that takes place in Abu Dhabi attracted a television audience of 17 million people this year. This time around, the contest was won by Ziyad Hijab bin Naheet who creates Nabati poetry, a rhymed narrative form that comes from Bedouin culture. In a broader sense, however, he was not the only winner. There was also Salah Al-Mansouri, a poet who challenged the bounds of traditional expression in front of this mass audience, using for example “a lengthy string of boasts that would be unremarkable in hip-hop but breaks Nabati convention by claiming his talent is his own rather than an attribute of his clan.” And, as Nashwa Al Ruwaini, the show’s creator, writes, there was a young woman from Saudi Arabia whose very presence in the competition was a stand for women’s rights:

Aydah Al Jahani, a young Saudi poetess who wears a niqab – an outfit that covers not only the body, but also the face – faced the wrath of her family and tribe for entering the third and most recent season of the competition. Upon hearing the news, her family pleaded with her to withdraw.

But Aydah pushed forward in the competition despite the lack of support from her relatives, and she became a force for women’s rights in the region. Thanks to public voting for her via text message and praise for her poetic skills from the judges, Aydah continued on to the second round of the competition. At that point, her family and tribe realized that the competition was to their collective benefit and did no harm to their honor.

Aydah’s story was splashed all over the news. Soon thereafter, the effects of her struggle could be seen in the audience, where the number of women rose to approximately half. Although Aydah ultimately did not win the title “Millions’ Poet,” she had received much moral support throughout her time as a contestant from her male and female counterparts, as well as from viewers.

The next young woman of her tribe who wishes to make art may find herself having an easier time. Women in the audience may be inspired to take a stand against the wishes of their male relatives (and those who are already doing so felt less alone for a time).

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