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Text to Elect? Palestinians pick a President via reality TV

2013 March 22

By Stephanie Fagan

Reality shows are all the rage these days. From The Voice to The Apprentice, nearly every profession has a reality series dedicated to discovering its next superstar. There are programs for chefs, fashion designers, dancers, and entrepreneurs….why not for politicians?

Well, fear not, because that void has been filled by Palestine’s newest reality show, The President! Last week, the Ma’an Network, in partnership with Search, launched the series that will document the journey to find a young Palestinian leader capable of earning trust and effectively representing his or her people.

Airing in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel, the 36–episode series is blazing a new frontier for Palestinian TV.  The President is a unique initiative that combines reality television with constructive content. The goal is to showcase democracy in action, promote good governance, and support the development of a new generation of leaders.

The series features 50 contestants under the age of 35 that dream of becoming president. Starting April 12th, viewers will cast their votes via text messages for the young person they believe embodies the qualities they wish to see in the next Palestinian President. The winner will have to overcome significant challenges, such as: answering hard questions about issues affecting Palestinians; taking part in problem-solving exercises; showing self-discipline; being on call “24/7”; participating in live debates; and managing a large enterprise for a day.

Like any popular reality show, the series features prominent judges who lend their expertise to the project and critique the candidates’ performances. The chosen three are:

  • Ahmad Tibi, an Arab-Israeli politician and leader of Ta’al, an Arab party in Israel. He currently serves as Deputy Speaker of the Knesset.
  • Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian legislator, activist, and scholar.
  • Ammar A. Aker, the CEO of Palestine Telecom Group and a member of Paltel Group’s Board of Directors.

The first episode began airing on March 14th, and we are extremely excited about the incredible support it has already received from the public!  Over one thousand Palestinians auditioned to be candidates, and viewers are already raving about the constructive yet entertaining commentary from the judges.

After the airing of the first show, SFGC Jerusalem’s Ziad AbuZayyad explained:

The President’s combinations of popular dramatic reality TV and political issues will bring together a new generation of Palestinians that are enthusiastic and ready to change their future. The Arab Spring changed the Middle East, but today Palestinians have opted for a creative and non-violent approach to the problems they face, using reality TV to communicate the demands of the people.”

With this new series the Ma’an Network has revolutionized reality television and morphed it into an instrument for leadership building. Search helped launch the network in 2002 and in little over a decade it has flourished into a force for constructive dialogue. The innovative nature of The President demonstrates that the Ma’an Network deeply understands the nature of the “common ground approach,” wherein one uses creativity to address important and sometimes controversial topics.

This new project reminds us that progress can emanate from the most unlikely of sources…even reality television.

Watch episodes of The President on the Ma’an Network’s YouTube channel.

Visit the series’ Facebook site to stay updated on the show’s progress.


Stephanie Fagan is a graduating senior at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, where she studies international affairs with a concentration in contemporary cultures and societies. She believes that understanding nuanced cultural differences is essential to the peace building process. Stephanie is the new media intern at Search for Common Ground.

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