Who’s the greatest Arab of them all?

Arabs across the globe will soon find out who the greatest Arab in history actually was.

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By  David Ingham Published  December 31, 2003

Arabs across the globe will soon find out who the greatest Arab in history actually was. The votes are in for MBC television’s ‘Greatest Arab’ series, a format the channel recently brought from the BBC in the UK. Producers will release a list of the top 100 in early 2004, before broadcasting programmes highlighting the qualities of the final ten. Viewers will then vote for their favourite. Through text messaging and on the web site, viewers simply had to choose their top three from the vast pool of Arab talent. The only exception to nominations was a plea not to include the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), his close relatives and the first four Caliphs. “Our main incentive is to allow all the Arab people to express their views,” explained Ramzi Rassi, the programme’s executive producer. The voting system will inevitably draw up a few surprises, as was the case in the UK, where Princess Diana and John Lennon figured in the final selection. Rassi was quick to add that with an audience of 130 million, the chance is that some controversial personalities could get into the final round, although a committee may decide to exclude them, depending on public opinion. “We expect motivated people to do everything they can to get particular figures on the list, just as they did in the UK and Germany. No doubt figures like Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, who have recived nominations, will be among them,” commented Rassi. “However, there will also be massive support for more benign characters, with different countries battling to get their national heroes elected,” he added. Despite this, due to the multi-cultural nature of the Arab world, there may well be problems defining who qualifies as an Arab. Saladin, for example, often considered as one of the greatest Arabs for famously recapturing Jerusalem from the Crusaders, was actually Kurdish. “People are welcome to nominate whomsoever they choose, but we will only include someone who has spoken or written in Arabic, or who has done something notable for the Arab people,” clarified Rassi. So while Lawrence of Arabia may not be ruled out, some of the more popular names to receive votes in the early stages included Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, Egyptian singer Um Kalthoum and explorer Ibn Battuta. Nevertheless, finding an overall winner will prove interesting. When Arabian Business surveyed 20 Arabs for their top three, the poll returned with 37 different names out of a possible 60. Top of the tree was former Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nassar, Lebanese poet and thinker Khalil Gibran and Palestinian satirical cartoonist Naji Al Ali.

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