Monday, April 19, 2010

Saudi Woman Challenges Religious Order with Poetry

Hissa Hilal was the first woman to reach the final of Abu Dhabi world-famous poetry competition, "The Million's Poet," which attracts a massive television audience across the Arab world. But the success of the veiled Saudi Arabian poet, who criticized fatwas in one verse, has also made her unpopular.

The show is called "The Million's Poet." It follows the same format as casting shows like "American Idol." The winners are eventually chosen from among several thousand candidates, and the program is broadcast live. There are also qualifying rounds, audience voting via text message and a jury.

But there are differences, of course. For instance, the jury consists of poets, not celebrities from the world of pop. Instead of looking at contestants' personal appearance or singing voice, the judges consider their use of rhetorical devices and metaphors. And in this show, it's not easy for the audience to clap along with the rhythms.

"The Million's Poet" is probably the only poetry mega-show in the television age. It attracts a TV audience of 18 million viewers, from Cairo to Muscat to Amman. The winner receives an unusually large cash prize of about $1 million ($745,000), which is more than the Nobel committee awarded the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature last fall.

Hissa Hilal knows what she would do with the money, but she prefers not to reveal that just yet.


  1. "Hilal entered the semifinal with a poem about fatwas. A few weeks earlier, a prominent Saudi cleric had ruled that anything that advocated the mixing of genders was worthy of condemnation -- and that anyone who opposed strict segregation of men and women should be put to death."

  2. Win a million, lose your head. There's always a catch.

  3. Very sad story Jemmy..Heart breaking to see those women treated like potato bags. Many Saudi women are highly educated but still are treated like babies.