GAZA CITY // Mobbed by fans wherever he goes, Adel Meshoukhi is the kind of singer that perhaps only Gaza could produce: an internet sensation who depends on a modest stipend from Hamas.
Very few people in the Palestinian territory haven’t heard of the young and disenchanted Meshoukhi.
He has performed for 10 years as a singer and also acts in television and radio dramas.
But despite his fame among Palestinians, he earns barely anything from his art and used to work for the Hamas security services until he was accidentally shot in the leg during training three years ago.
Still convalescing, he receives a partial – though sporadic – income from the group.
“Do not be afraid of me pussycat, do not run away,” sings the 32-year-old in his most popular song – an ode to a cat. “I’m only a human being.”
The video for this song, which Meshouki sings in Arabic, shows him wandering the dark empty streets of Rafah in southern Gaza
It was made with just his own mobile phone and a computer, but has been shared hundreds of thousands of times on Facebook.
Young people listen to the song, called Fear Not, and other hits over and over again on their phones or at wedding parties.
The secret of his success? His light style, which mixes jokes and irony for Gazans keen to forget politics for a few minutes.
“I no longer speak of politics and war because we are all fed up, we want to have some fun,” says Meshoukhi, round-faced with cropped black hair.
The singer causes a stir every time he arrives at crowded cafes on the Mediterranean seafront, sunglasses always on his nose.
Recently, Meshoukhi was invited to a wedding party in a Rafah refugee camp, where he was the guest of honour.
“Everyone loves Adel here,” grins Ibrahim Al Nireb, the brother of the groom, who repeatedly took selfies with the star who he says “brings smiles to people’s faces”.
Gaza, where 1.9 million people live behind largely-closed borders with Israel and Egypt, is still in recovery from a devastating 2014 war with Israel.
Around 45 per cent of its workforce are unemployed and two-thirds of the population depend on foreign aid.
“I am a human being, I don’t want to make war with anyone, I just want to live,” says Meshoukhi in the house he still shares with his parents in the Rafah refugee camp. “But nobody listens to us.”
If he talks to cats in the song that made him famous, “it’s because they at least are harmless”.
His lyrics are mild but often gently satirical.
His latest song, My Trousers, which was posted earlier this month, tells of dirty laundry but evokes the economic struggles of young people.
As such, he has become popular with the under-30s who see no future for themselves in Gaza.
The Gaza Strip is a “giant prison” where people live like “sardines in a tin”, says Meshoukhi.
For psychiatrist Samir Zaqout, the singer’s success comes from tapping into “the desperation born of social and economic pressure on young Palestinians”.
This has allowed him to “achieve enormous popularity in a short time”.
Meshoukhi speaks from experience of struggling to make ends meet.
He has no lucrative contract or flashy lifestyle – fame has not brought riches.
The English graduate, divorced and childless, relies on the stipend from the department of national security.
Three years after the shooting accident, he receives only half his former monthly wage.
“How can you live on a salary of 1,200 shekels (Dh283.96)?” he asks.
And that is only when the money is paid, which it often isn’t because of political infighting and financial shortfalls.
But despite Meshoukhi’s popularity, in conservative Gaza, even moderately satirical songs can spark a backlash.
The musician says the Hamas authorities have accused him of “harming the military” by acting and singing in his spare time and that he has been detained by the Hamas police eight times.
“These wild songs aim to destroy our conservative youth,” posted one critic of Meshoukhi on Facebook.
But it is precisely because “he is afraid of nothing and speaks the needs of youth” that he is so popular, says Saleh Al Moughir, a Gazan actor.
In a video posted on YouTube, Meshoukhi hits out at Gaza’s Islamist rulers.
“Hamas, leave office. It’s been 10 years you’ve been responsible for the plight of Gazans. You sent us back 300 years,” he bellows.
“We have no electricity, no water, no jobs and borders are closed. Life, dreams, hopes, everything is finished!”
* Agence France-Presse