Considering the Palestinians have only had two presidents in over 20 years, it’s no wonder they are taking it upon themselves to elect their own leader – or a televised version at least. In the West Bank’s answer to the Apprentice, Ma’an Network has launched The President, a reality TV show that follows the story of 16 young Palestinians (out of 1,200 that auditioned) as they compete to become front-runners of the show.
Much like the familiar reality show set up, every week a contestant stands on the stage and tries to convince both the audience and the judges that they are the best person to decipher Palestine’s problems. They reveal how they would deal with the corrosive issue of settlements, their position on the death penalty and offer ideas for jump starting the stagnant economy.
Not only do they take questions from Palestinian and foreign journalists but they must negotiate various tasks such as running a corporation for a day, canvasing the public on the streets and being ambassador to a European country. Over 36 episodes participants must also complete problem solving exercises, be on call 24/7, and take part in live debates. The three participants from Gaza pitch their ideas via video link considering travel from the Strip is too difficult.
No reality show would be complete without its board of judges (think Simon Cowell of X Factor and Nasty Nigel of Popstars.) Offering knowledge and criticism to the contestants is a five-person panel including politician and leader of Ta’al Arab Party Ahmad Tibi, activist and scholar Hanan Ashrawi and CEO of Palestine Telecom Group Ammar A. Aker. At the end of each round of contestants they vote for who they would like to stay on using green and red cards.
Meanwhile, viewers back home send text messages to elect who they would like to go through to the next round. In June the winner, that is their dream Palestinian President, will be chosen using the same SMS system and although the participants don’t automatically win a seat in office they do win a car and the chance to travel. They will also speak at the UN and the House of Lords and be fast-tracked into a political career which can take months if undertaken through the traditional route.
Not only has Ma’an Network capitalised on the much loved reality TV show trend, but it has utilised it as a tool for raising political awareness and developing leadership qualities. Currently being broadcast in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel, that the show has been popular amongst Palestinians (watched by an estimate of 50% of households) in part reflects a desire to be involved in the issues circulating their country and informs the current authority that people are fed up of corruption, hungry for change and want a real democracy.
Whilst the Arab Spring saw populations in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya remove their long term leaders, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has weathered the storm and stood firmly in position in Palestine. Considering the fact that his elected mandate ended in 2009 and that he has set resolving his differences with Hamas as a precondition for holding elections, The President might be the closest Palestinians get to seeing a fresh political face in the near future.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.