Al Jahani hailed as ‘Million’ hero

Poet refuses to quit despite family, tribe pressure

BAGHDAD — Saudi poet Aydah Al Aarawi Al Jahani is being embraced as a hero by women and poets alike not only in the Arab world but further afield because she refuses to quit the highly popular Abu Dhabi TV show “The Million’s Poet” despite pressure from her family and tribe.

Bloggers and Internet poetry sites have praised her decision not to walk away from the show, saying she is paving the way for women’s empowerment in the Arab world.

Al Jahani says her main fear now is not the backlash she expects from members of her tribe back in Saudi Arabia but the possibility that she may not triumph in the contest, whose winner receives prize money of 5 million dirhams (about $1.3 million).

“I am very proud to be the first female poet to make it to this stage of the competition; I am now just afraid of losing,” she said on winning through to the third round of the show last week.

Although members of her family want her to quit, her husband has become a staunch supporter and is seen in the audience while she, dressed in all-covering black abayah, reads her poetry.

Her theme of the struggle of women to be recognized as poets in a male-dominated Arab world has found resonance with the millions of viewers tuning into the weekly show. She drew 59% of public SMS votes in round two.

The show’s promoters are delighted by the renewed interest in the already popular show.

Exec producer Nashwa Al Ruwaini said she is “proud” of Al Jahani.

“I … hope she continues in the competition and doesn’t throw in the towel before her time. She is a true example to women all over the region proving that women too have their place in the arts,” she said.

“The Million’s Poet,” a kind of “American Idol” for Gulf region poets that in its first two seasons drew millions of eyeballs, scored ratings that overtook those of soccer and was hailed as one of the most successful Arab television shows ever when it preemed in December 2006.

The skein is now in its third season, with the next round due on Feb. 19, when Al Jahani will compete against 11 other poets in her bid to become the first female Millions’ Poet.

Two other women, both from Jordan, were eliminated in the first round.