International poetry star Hissa Hilal did not win the Million’s Poet finals two weeks ago. But was this because she wasn’t the best poet—or because she didn’t have a big enough family with deep enough pockets?
That’s the allegation that was aired yesterday in The National. The winner, Nasser al Ajami (pictured), was crowned the “Million’s Poet” April 7 despite being beaten on the judges’ scorecards by Hilal, who ultimately walked away with third place.
How is this possible? Because viewer voting also plays a role in selecting the Million’s Poet. And apparently Al Ajami comes from a large family, and they voted, and voted, and voted. According to The National:
At a gathering of more than 4,000 tribesmen on the outskirts of Kuwait City to celebrate their family member’s success, the consensus was that voting based on tribal allegiance was a tactic employed by many of the contestants. They just did it better.
A sheikh in the al Ajami family, Mishal bin Hethlain, helped organize and fund the campaign. I enjoyed this quote:
“It’s like the election of a president: it’s not enough for individuals to vote,” he told The National.
He didn’t tell The National exactly how much was raised, but said “we’re talking millions” of Kuwaiti dinars. (You can look up how much that is in your currency; I’m assuming it’s more than millions of Egyptian pounds.)
As I recall, there was a similar scandal on “American Idol,” where one contestant’s supporters were accused of organizing (and perhaps buying) the vote. But I’m not sure it was quite on this scale:
The [millions of dinars were] used to raise al Ajami’s profile in the media and send bulk text messages through the country’s telecommunications companies to encourage Kuwaitis to vote.
Some tribesmen at the event said the bin Hethlain family distributed grants worth hundreds of dinars among the tribe to cover the costs of the text votes; others who attended were happy to pay out of their own pockets.
“I voted about 400 times, which cost me about 200 dinars (Dh2,550),” said Naif al Ajami, 38, a detective at the ministry of interior. He said he was keen to give his support to al Ajami because although “he isn’t my cousin, he is closely related to me.”
And the kicker, about Hissa Hilal:
Naif al Ajami said Mrs Hilal was a good poet, but “unlucky” not to come from a big family who would give her votes.