I’ve seen some strange reality TV in my time, but (mock) picking the next Palestinian head of state?
The hit show, called simply The President, has grown out of widespread frustration among Palestinians at their own moribund politics in the real world.
The current president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, remains in office four years after his mandate expired.
His party, Fatah, rules over the West Bank while in Gaza, Hamas, the Islamist movement labelled a terrorist organisation by many countries in the West, reigns – also years beyond the mandate it won in 2006.
The Palestinian assembly hasn’t met for many months. The roster of leaders hasn’t changed for decades.
Part Apprentice part X-Factor, viewers are gripped by a show in which they get to chose who should be their next president.
Enter Raed Othman, the director general of the Ma’an broadcast network.
“I thought of this programme because we have to show that the Palestinian people understand and want real democracy. We want elections – real elections. But if we cannot have them then we can do our own,” he said backstage during the filming of the latest episode of his show which has whittled 1,200 potential presidents to 16.
He added: “There are a lot of people who say we don’t have leaders, so we need to prove to them that there are a lot of leaders in Palestine. We want to teach the people that democracy is possible whenever we want”.
Contestants are filmed taking on tasks – being an ambassador to a European country for a day, running a major corporation, taking questions from foreign and local journalists, even how to inspect guards of honour.
They are then put through the ringer by a panel of judges, among them leading politicians like Hannan Ashrawi, a former spokeswoman for the Arab League. Viewers combine votes sent in by text message with the judges’ marks in early rounds.
The winner doesn’t actually become President; he or she just gets a car. Then again, considering the sorry state of Palestinian politics, that’s probably a more desirable outcome.