Millions Poet

Just be glad that American Idol contestants don’t have to compose and perform songs hailing the virtues of George W. Bush.

In the UAE, poetry – along with falconry and horsemanship – is the pinnacle of manly achievement. Even the hard-headed ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, has a website featuring his verses and declaring that “poetry has allowed Sheikh Mohammed to express the creative, sensitive side of his nature that he has little chance to display in the political arena”.

As a hobby of princes, it is an accordingly lucrative business. The Gulf version of Pop Idol is Millions Poet: a television spectacular in which Arab poets battle it out for a million dirhams – about £140,000. The night I visited the studio, the audience sat in neatly segregated sweeps: men in white dishdashas and ghutras to the left, women in black abayas and face veils to the right, the Sandhurst-educated crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, at the front. Between ad breaks for 4x4s and luxury flats, contestants composed elaborate verses in his honour – the favourite being a Qatari poet who compared competitors to racing camels guided by the prince’s wisdom and foresight.

New Statesman

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