by A phenomenon is sweeping the Middle East. Arabs young and old are voting in record numbers—and this time it’s not for the Muslim Brotherhood. Armed with nothing but their cellphones, they have set aside their differences and united to watch and vote for the next Arab Idol.

Palestinians watch as Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf from the Gaza Strip participates in the Arab Idol competition at a restaurant in Gaza City on April 26, 2013. (Mohammed Abed / AFP / Getty Images)

If Pan-Arabism died with Jamal Abdel Nasser, the Arab incarnation of the Idol franchise has officially resurrected it. Now in its second year, Arab Idol is a bizarro version of American Idol in its glory days, when Simon Cowell would berate Paula Abdul as she slurred and slumped in her chair. The Idol of days long gone by, that launched the careers of future megastars like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. I am a huge Arab Idol fan, not because I love cheesy covers of the Egyptian Songbook, but because it defies every single orientalist stereotype. The judges’ panel is made up of legendary Arab superstars from a variety of countries and faiths: proof that not all Arabs are Muslim. The two men and two women sit right next to each other on the panel and the audience is mixed too, because except for the lunatic fringe that is how we roll in the Middle East.

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