- The Washington Times - Monday, June 3, 2002

CAIRO — The Arab world's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" remains popular while its U.S. prime-time counterpart has been dropped by ABC. To keep Arab audiences tuning in, the show has added another ingredient to the mix: politics.
One of host George Kordahi's catchphrases is more topical than Regis Philbin's "Is that your final answer?"
"Greetings to our steadfast people in Palestine," he says.
Arabs divided by political rivalries and even language national Arabic dialects can differ greatly are united by support for the Palestinians in their war against Israel.
Arab politicians have exploited the Palestinian war; playwrights and musicians have written about it. Now a game show has ridden pro-Palestinian sentiment to become one of the most popular programs in the Middle East.
Mr. Kordahi, a former journalist who covered the civil war in his native Lebanon, said he couldn't do a show that ignored serious current events, and that the plight of the Palestinians was the issue of the moment.
"I'm sad like every Arab at what Israel is doing to the Palestinians, for their huge sacrifices and the blood of the martyrs, which is reflected on the mood of the show," he said.
In December, Mr. Kordahi quizzed three "martyrs' mothers" whose sons or daughters were killed by Israeli troops. They won a total of $100,000 and said they would donate the money to charities. The top prize is 1 million Saudi riyals, or $267,000.
Produced by the Saudi-owned MBC satellite station, the quiz show debuted across the Arab world a few months after the latest Palestinian intifada began. From the start, the television images of Palestinian-Israeli clashes that dominated the news programs of MBC and other satellite stations seemed to set the mood on the show.
The show's questions, commonly drawn from the Koran and Islamic history, promote pan-Arabism. Contestants are asked about politics and sports in the Arab world and about Islamic culture and history. Though Mr. Kordahi is Christian, he peppers his patter with verses from the Muslim holy book.
"I don't see myself as a Maronite [Christian]. I think of myself as Lebanese," Mr. Kordahi said. "I was born feeling that I belong to this Arab Islamic civilization."
The show, like anything that has drawn such attention, inevitably has met with criticism. Last year, a viewer asked one of Egypt's top Muslim clerics, Nasr Farid Wassel, whether such a show was allowed by Islam, which bans gambling. Mr. Wassel declared it and other high-stakes game shows to be sinful.
But Sheik Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, head of the prestigious Al-Azhar mosque and university and more influential than Mr. Wassel, disagreed.
"These competitions address a series of useful religious, historical, cultural and scientific questions, and their goal is to spread knowledge among the public," Mr. Tantawi said.
Two men have become millionaires so far. The first was from the United Arab Emirates, and the second was Palestinian Mohammed Tanira, who said he drove through the Gaza Strip and Israeli checkpoints to reach the studios in Cairo.
After Mr. Tanira's victory, columnist Mahmoud Mouawad wrote in the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram: "Palestine won the million."

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