Arab Americans can improve their image by telling their own stories, Egyptian-American actor says

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Updated 26 August 2022

Arab Americans can improve their image by telling their own stories, Egyptian-American actor says

Arab Americans can improve their image by telling their own stories, Egyptian-American actor says

Chicago -- Amr El-Bayoumi began his life as a successful but overworked lawyer on the East Coast when he was asked by friends to fly to Los Angeles to enjoy a party with other law firm colleagues.

El-Bayoumi had booked a flight on American Airlines 77 to travel to LA, but as he prepared to leave his mother intervened, complaining about him working too hard, losing weight and not taking care of his health. That evening, on Sept. 10, 2001, El-Bayoumi cancelled his flight, saving his life.

He is also working on producing his own movie short about the experience called “CloseCall,” which tells the story of his close escape. Leaving from Washington DC for Los Angeles, American Airlines Flight 77 was intentionally crashed by hijackers into the US Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, killing 64 passengers and crew, and 125 Pentagon employees.

“Me as an Egyptian-American Muslim almost died on 9/11 had it not been for my mom, thankfully. I had been working as a lawyer, completely burnt out, and I was going to fly to visit a friend in LA,” El-Bayoumi said during an interview with Arab News on the Ray Hanania Radio show on Wednesday.

“But my mom saw me after having lost a lot of weight, not sleeping and the usual lawyer stuff. And I told her, ‘I am going to visit Jim tomorrow’ and she said, ‘No you are not.’ She stopped me there and said you are not going. And the next morning was 9/11. So that plane I was supposed to go on was American Airlines Flight 77. That is the seed of my film called ‘CloseCall’.”

El-Bayoumi said that it was the reason why he left the legal industry to become an actor, although he has had to carefully accept and reject roles; he said that he will not perpetuate anti-Arab or anti-Muslim stereotypes. 

“There are two kinds of issues to identify. There is representation of Arab artists in mainstream roles, which is something that we are seeing more of. It is increasing but not nearly as much as it should be, such as Rami Malek playing the lead singer in Queen. And the other part is how Arabs are portrayed as characters, Arabs or Muslims . . . Really what we are seeing is a very narrow representation of Arabs and Muslims when they do appear as characters in mainstream film and TV. And that typically is in the context of terrorism,” El- Bayoumi said. 

“We lose on all fronts. We are represented in a narrow box as ugly or brutal or lesser or savage or violent terrorists. And when it comes to our own stories, ‘Gods of Egypt’ and ‘Aladdin’ recently, which got some press about how the producers regret not casting Arab actors. We don’t get to play those roles or we are absent.” 

Citing recent studies, El-Bayoumi said: “Between 2017 and 2019 only 1.6 percent of almost 9,000 speaking characters were Muslim compared to the world population of 24 percent. Either we are missing, or we don’t tell our own stories, or we are in this box of the ugly terrorists. So, I have encountered that several times and I have seen an evolution of this ugly terrorist character, just this bloodthirsty, ‘I want to destroy Western civilization.’ And I have also noticed a feeble attempt at humanizing or showing balance, where the main character is a bloodthirsty Taliban guy bent on destroying the entire world violently but he has a soft spot for his daughter.”

El-Bayoumi said that he has turned down many acting roles based on violence and terrorism and “ugly stereotypes . . . layers of racism . . . and the one-dimensional Arab stereotypes” that Hollywood tries to script for movies involving Arabs and Muslims.

It was a struggle at first, El-Bayoumi conceded, but his acting career grew. He studied acting in London and then moved to New York where he did some work on TV series, and then to Los Angeles. He now lives between Washington D.C. and New York City, where he pursues acting roles that meet his vision while developing his own scripts and stories.

El-Bayoumi is performing in the new 10-episode Apple series “Dear Edward,” a story about a falafel truck driver. The character is based on The New York Times best-selling novel by Ann Napolitano, which explores the life of a 12-year-old boy who survives a devastating commercial plane crash that kills every other passenger on the flight, including members of his family. 

He has also appeared in several TV productions, including the popular NBC Series “Law & Order,” the CBS Series “The Code,” and in “El Mahal” (The Store), a film that has won multiple awards, including best foreign language short at the Marina Del Rey Film Festival.

El-Bayoumi said that he is comfortable in acting, noting his path was paved by many Egyptian actors who led the way in defining powerful Hollywood film images. Among the most famous are Omar Sharif, Sayed Badreya, Rami Malek and Ahmad Ahmad, who is also the country's leading Arab-American comedian.

He said that Arab Americans can redefine how they are portrayed and stereotyped in Hollywood, which casts them in narrow roles contextualized by violence and terrorism, by telling their own stories and changing the context in which Arabs and Muslims are portrayed.

“My problem with that fundamentally is that the context remains violence and terrorism. And with the 7,000 different kinds of narratives, it still comes back to that context. I refuse to reinforce in the viewers’ mind that it  is just an inherent Arab or Muslim trait. It is absurd. It is ludicrous. No one people have this kind of trait. It is how it is portrayed and then how people are taught to hate,” he said.

“I welcome the chance to be able to expose these issues and to offer my support to fellow Arabs and Muslims who want to become artists. Maybe because I was a lawyer for 20 years and becoming an actor is really to me such a pleasure, I go out of my way to support anyone, especially Arabs and Muslims that are interested in being artists and being involved and writing their own stories. That is really my ultimate message to younger and older generations. We have to tell our own stories. We can’t wait for Hollywood. It’s a business.”

The Ray Hanania Show is broadcast live every Wednesday at 5 p.m. Eastern EST on the US Arab Radio Network sponsored by Arab News on WNZK AM 690 radio in Greater Detroit including parts of Ohio, and WDMV AM 700 radio in Washington DC including parts of Virginia and Maryland. The show is rebroadcast on Thursdays at 7 a.m. in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Chicago at 12 noon on WNWI AM 1080.

You can listen to the radio show’s podcast by visiting

Harmful pollution boosting superbug ‘silent pandemic’

Harmful pollution boosting superbug ‘silent pandemic’
Updated 08 February 2023

Harmful pollution boosting superbug ‘silent pandemic’

Harmful pollution boosting superbug ‘silent pandemic’

PARIS: Containing and cleaning up environmental pollution, especially in waterways, is crucial to controlling increasingly bullet-proof superbugs which could kill tens of millions by mid-century, a new UN report said Tuesday.
Superbugs — strains of bacteria resistant to antibiotics — are estimated to have killed 1.27 million people in 2019, and the World Health Organization says antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the top global health threats on the near-term horizon.
Up to 10 million deaths could occur every year by 2050 because of AMR, the UN says.
The disinfectants, antiseptics and antibiotics that can help microbes become stronger are everywhere, from toothpaste and shampoo to cow’s milk and wastewater.
A new report Tuesday said pollution is a key driver in the “development, transmission and spread” of AMR, calling for urgent action to clean up the environment.
“With increasing pollution and lack of management of sources of pollution, combined with AMR in clinical and hospital settings and agriculture, risks are increasing,” said the report from the UN Environment Programme.
Antimicrobial resistance is a natural phenomenon, but the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in humans, animals and plants has made the problem worse.
This means antibiotics may no longer work to fight the very infections they were designed to treat.
The UN report Tuesday said that pollution in the environment from key economic sectors has exacerbated the problem, namely from the pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturing sectors, along with agriculture and health care.
Herbicides to control weeds on farms may also increase AMR, while heavy metals are also contributing to the problem.
Once antimicrobials enter the environment they seep into the food chain — they’ve been found in fish and cattle — and loop back into factories making everyday toiletries, for example.

Antimicrobial resistant genes are in waterways across the globe, from the Ganges River in India to the Cache la Poudre River in the US state of Colorado, the UN study found.
“This is a real issue, because rivers are often the source of our drinking water,” Jonathan Cox, senior lecturer in microbiology at Britain’s Aston University, told AFP.
“It’s already the silent pandemic,” warned Cox, who is not linked to the UN study. “It is becoming the next pandemic without us really recognizing it.”
Prevention is key, the UN said.
“Fuelled by population growth, urbanization and growing demand for food and health care, we can expect an increase in the use of antimicrobials and in pollutant releases into the environment,” it said.
The UN urged governments and international groups to address “key pollution sources,” including sewage, city waste, health care delivery, pharmaceutical manufacturing and intensive crop sectors.
Cox said solutions need to be global, since AMR is so pervasive.
One answer is to focus on clinical approaches, such as improving rapid testing for infections so that antibiotics are not incorrectly prescribed.
Another is improving wastewater management to remove antimicrobials. But such processes are complicated and costly.
“The technology is out there, it just isn’t being employed because governments don’t care so much about the environment as they do about the bottom line,” Cox said.


Biden says in State of Union that US is ‘unbowed, unbroken’

Biden says in State of Union that US is ‘unbowed, unbroken’
Updated 20 min 15 sec ago

Biden says in State of Union that US is ‘unbowed, unbroken’

Biden says in State of Union that US is ‘unbowed, unbroken’
  • The president is taking the House rostrum at a time when just a quarter of US adults say things in the country are headed in the right direction, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden is using his State of the Union address Tuesday night to call on Republicans to work with him to “finish the job” of rebuilding the economy and uniting the nation as he seeks to overcome pessimism in the country and navigate political divisions in Washington.
The annual speech comes as the nation struggles to make sense of confounding cross-currents at home and abroad — economic uncertainty, a wearying war in Ukraine, growing tensions with China and more — and warily sizes up Biden’s fitness for a likely reelection bid. The president is offering a reassuring assessment of the nation’s condition rather than rolling out flashy policy proposals.
“The story of America is a story of progress and resilience,” Biden is declaring, according to excerpts released in advance by the White House. He’s highlighting record job creation under his tenure as the country has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic. And he’s declaring that two years after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol, the country’s democracy is “unbowed and unbroken.”
With Republicans now in control of the House, Biden is pointing areas of bipartisan progress in his first two years in office, including on states’ vital infrastructure and high tech manufacturing. And he says, “There is no reason we can’t work together in this new Congress.”
“The people sent us a clear message. Fighting for the sake of fighting, power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict, gets us nowhere,” Biden is saying. “And that’s always been my vision for the country: to restore the soul of the nation, to rebuild the backbone of America — the middle class — to unite the country.”
“We’ve been sent here to finish the job!”
The president is taking the House rostrum at a time when just a quarter of US adults say things in the country are headed in the right direction, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. About three-quarters say things are on the wrong track. And a majority of Democrats don’t want Biden to seek another term.
He is confronting those sentiments head on, aides say.
“You wonder whether a path even exists anymore for you and your children to get ahead without moving away, I get it,” Biden says. “That’s why we’re building an economy where no one is left behind. Jobs are coming back, pride is coming back because of the choices we made in the last two years.”
The setting for Biden’s speech looks markedly different from a year ago, when it was Democratic stalwart Nancy Pelosi seated behind him as House speaker — though tighter-than-usual security measures returned in a vestige of the 2021 attack. Pelosi’s been replaced by Republican Kevin McCarthy, and it was unclear what kind of reception restive Republicans in the chamber would give the Democratic president.
McCarthy on Monday vowed to be “respectful” during the address and in turn asked Biden to refrain from using the phrase “extreme MAGA Republicans,” which the president deployed on the campaign trail in 2022.
“I won’t tear up the speech, I won’t play games,” McCarthy told reporters, a reference to Pelosi’s dramatic action after President Donald Trump’s final State of the Union address.
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who gained a national profile as Trump’s press secretary, was to deliver the Republican response to Biden’s speech.
She was to focus much of her remarks on social issues, including race in business and education and alleged big-tech censorship of conservatives.
“While you reap the consequences of their failures, the Biden administration seems more interested in woke fantasies than the hard reality Americans face every day,” she was to say, according to excerpts released by her office. “Most Americans simply want to live their lives in freedom and peace, but we are under attack in a left-wing culture war we didn’t start and never wanted to fight.”
With COVID-19 restrictions now lifted, the White House and legislators from both parties invited guests designed to drive home political messages with their presence in the House chamber. The parents of Tyre Nichols, who was severely beaten by police officers in Memphis and later died, are among those expected to be seated with first lady Jill Biden. Other Biden guests include the rock star/humanitarian Bono and the 26-year-old who disarmed a gunman in last month’s Monterey Park, California, shooting.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus invited family members of those involved in police incidents, as they sought to press for action on police reform in the wake of Nichols’ death. A White House fact sheet ahead of the speech paired police reform with bringing down violence, suggesting that giving police better training tools could lead to less crime nationwide.
Biden is shifting his sights after spending his first two years pushing through major bills such as the bipartisan infrastructure package, legislation to promote high-tech manufacturing and climate measures. With Republicans now in control of the House, he is turning his focus to implementing those massive laws and making sure voters credit him for the improvements.
The switch is largely by necessity. The newly empowered GOP is itching to undo many of his achievements and vowing to pursue a multitude of investigations — including looking into the recent discoveries of classified documents from his time as vice president at his home and former office.
At the same time, Biden will need to find a way to work across the aisle to keep the government funded by raising the federal debt limit by this summer. He has insisted that he won’t negotiate on meeting the country’s debt obligations; Republicans have been equally adamant that he must make spending concessions.
On the eve of the president’s address, McCarthy challenged Biden to come to the negotiating table with House Republicans to slash spending as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling.
“We must move toward a balanced budget and insist on genuine accountability for every dollar we spend,” McCarthy said.
While hopes for large-scale bipartisanship are slim, Biden was reissuing his 2022 appeal for Congress to get behind his “unity agenda” of actions to address the opioid epidemic, mental health, veterans’ health and cancer. He was to announce new executive action and call for lawmakers to act to support new measures to support cancer research, address housing needs and suicide among veterans, boost access to mental health care, and move to further crack down on deadly trafficking in fentanyl.
The White House said the president would call for extending the new $35 per month price cap on insulin for people on Medicare to everyone in the country. He would also push Congress to quadruple the 1 percent tax on corporate share buybacks that was enacted in the Democrats’ climate and health care bill passed last year known as the Inflation Reduction Act.
The speech comes days after Biden ordered the military to shoot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon that flew brazenly across the country, captivating the nation and serving as a reminder of tense relations between the two global powers.
Last year’s address occurred just days after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine and as many in the West doubted Kyiv’s ability to withstand the onslaught. Over the past year, the US and other allies have sent tens of billions of dollars in military and economic assistance to bolster Ukraine’s defenses. Now, Biden must make the case — both at home and abroad — for sustaining that coalition as the war drags on.


At least 24 killed in second day of fighting in Somaliland

Somaliland police force guard in Hargeisa, Somaliland. (AFP file photo)
Somaliland police force guard in Hargeisa, Somaliland. (AFP file photo)
Updated 08 February 2023

At least 24 killed in second day of fighting in Somaliland

Somaliland police force guard in Hargeisa, Somaliland. (AFP file photo)
  • Local elders in Las Anod said electricity and water had been cut off, and health centers attacked with mortars

BOSASO, Somalia: At least 24 people were killed and another 53 injured in a second day of heavy fighting in Somalia’s breakaway region of Somaliland, two doctors said, after local leaders declared their intention to rejoin federal Somalia.
Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991 but has not gained widespread international recognition for its independence, and has faced opposition from some clan elders in the east of the territory who seek to be governed from Mogadishu.
On Tuesday Somaliland said fighters from neighboring Puntland, a semi-autonomous region of Somalia, were fighting alongside local militias in the town of Las Anod, accusations Puntland denied.
Two doctors said the bodies of 58 people had been brought to their public hospital in Las Anod since the clashes began on Monday morning, with many more injured unable to reach the hospital because of heavy fighting in the town.
Local elders in Las Anod said electricity and water had been cut off, and health centers attacked with mortars.
“Somaliland forces are carrying out heavy attacks on medical facilities and civilian homes. The deaths and injuries of civilians cannot be counted,” said Mukhtar Abdi, a resident of Las Anod, the administrative center of Sool region.
It was unclear which side started the fighting, but it came a day after a committee of local leaders, religious scholars and civil society groups said in a statement they did not recognize Somaliland’s administration.
“Today, the (perpetrators) were supported by militias from the neighboring Puntland region of Somalia and the so called Khatumo militia in a carefully coordinated manner,” Somaliland’s state broadcaster said on Twitter.
Puntland’s interior minister Abdi Farah Said Juhaa said his government, which has controlled the town in the past, was not involved in the fighting, and that Somaliland should withdraw its troops from Las Anod and other areas.
Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on Tuesday called for a cease-fire: “let the Somaliland administration and the clan elders of Las Anod sit and talk. The solution is in our pursuit of united Somalia.”


UK charity Penny Appeal working to provide aid for victims of Turkiye earthquakes

UK charity Penny Appeal working to provide aid for victims of Turkiye earthquakes
Updated 08 February 2023

UK charity Penny Appeal working to provide aid for victims of Turkiye earthquakes

UK charity Penny Appeal working to provide aid for victims of Turkiye earthquakes
  • The initial magnitude 7.8 quake and a series of strong aftershocks cut a swath of destruction across hundreds of miles of southeastern Turkiye and northern Syria

LONDON: British charity Penny Appeal said on Tuesday it is liaising with partner organizations that are working in the areas hit by the devastating earthquake in Turkiye on Monday to provide aid for those worst affected by the disaster.

“Penny Appeal will be working with its partners on the ground to support the affected communities and provide much-needed assistance to the victims of this calamity,” the Yorkshire-based charity said.

“This will include those who have lost their homes, who have lost family members and who have no means of obtaining food, water or medicines.”

Charitable organizations in many countries have quickly mobilized to send aid and deploy rescue teams after the earthquakes and aftershocks, which killed more than 7,200 people. The initial magnitude 7.8 quake and a series of strong aftershocks cut a swath of destruction across hundreds of miles of southeastern Turkiye and northern Syria. They toppled thousands of buildings, heaping more misery on a region already suffering as a result of the 12-year civil war in Syria and the resultant refugee crisis.

“The initial 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck near the city of Gaziantep in Turkiye has been reported as the worst earthquake to hit the region in a century,” Penny Appeal said.

“This earthquake that caused hundreds of deaths and widespread damage was followed by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake reported to have caused further deaths and destruction across the Elbistan district of Turkiye’s Kahramanmaras province.

“The third earthquake, of 6.0 magnitude, followed within hours of the first, causing complete havoc and despair for communities across Turkiye and Syria, leaving thousands injured and many more expected deaths.”

The charity added that its partners on the ground “are working closely with the local authorities and other aid agencies to coordinate their relief efforts and ensure that aid reaches those who need it most.”

Ahmad Boston, director of marketing and communications at Penny Appeal, said: “The victims of the earthquake in Turkiye desperately need our help.

“With the support of the public, we can provide essential aid to those affected and help them through this difficult time. Every donation, no matter how small, will make a significant difference.”

US man convicted of aiding Daesh as sniper, trainer

US man convicted of aiding Daesh as sniper, trainer
Updated 08 February 2023

US man convicted of aiding Daesh as sniper, trainer

US man convicted of aiding Daesh as sniper, trainer
  • His lawyers didn’t dispute that he went to Syria and affiliated with the Daesh group, but they argued that his accounts of his role were boasts that had no firsthand corroboration and didn’t prove anyone died because of his conduct

NEW YORK: A former New York stockbroker-turned-Daesh group militant was convicted Tuesday of becoming a sniper and trainer for the extremist group during its brutal reign in Syria and Iraq.
The trial of Ruslan Maratovich Asainov, a Kazakh-born US citizen, was the latest in a series of cases against people accused of leaving their homelands around the world to join the militants in combat.
“Today’s verdict in an American courtroom is a victory for our system of justice” and against the Daesh group, Brooklyn-based US Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement. Asainov’s lawyers had no immediate comment.
A onetime broker who doted on his toddler daughter, Asainov converted to Islam around 2009 and later quit his job and started watching radical sermons online, his ex-wife testified. He abruptly left his family in Brooklyn in December 2013 and made his way to Syria as IS stormed to power.

This photo shot in Tabqa, Syria between June 2014 and April 2015, which was been entered into evidence during trial, depicts a man prosecutors say is Ruslan Maratovich Asainov. (AP)

In a case built largely on Asainov’s own words in messaging apps, emails, recorded phone calls and an FBI interview, prosecutors said he fought in numerous battles and built a notable profile in IS by becoming a sniper and later an instructor of nearly 100 other long-range shooters.
“The evidence has shown that people died as a result of the defendant’s conduct. It is time to hold him accountable,” prosecutor Douglas Pravda told a Brooklyn federal court jury in a closing argument.
Asainov, 46, didn’t testify, telling the court he was “not part of this process.”
His lawyers didn’t dispute that he went to Syria and affiliated with the Daesh group, but they argued that his accounts of his role were boasts that had no firsthand corroboration and didn’t prove anyone died because of his conduct.
“Nobody’s arguing to you that Mr. Asainov’s view of the world is not a very warped view,” defense attorney Sabrina Shroff said in her summation, asking the jury “not to confuse his views with what is needed to convict him beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“There’s not a single piece of paper that ties Mr. Asainov to anything in the Daesh group that would tell you he, in fact, is the person he claims to be,” she said.
Jurors, whose identities were kept confidential, found Asainov guilty of offenses that include providing and attempting to provide material support to what the US designates a foreign terrorist organization. The jury also concluded that his actions caused at least one death, a finding that means he faces the potential of life in prison. His sentencing is set for June 7.
IS fighters seized chunks of Iraq and Syria in 2014, sweeping millions of people into a so-called caliphate ruled according to the group’s iron-fisted interpretation of Islamic law, enforced through massacres, beheadings, sexual slavery and other atrocities. The group’s bloody campaign attracted tens of thousands of foreign fighters; at least scores of them were US citizens, according to a 2018 academic report from George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.
Fighting left a swath of deaths, displacement and destruction in major cities and beyond. The extremists lost the last remnants of their realm in 2019.
Asainov was picked up soon after by US-backed forces and turned over to US authorities. Unabashed as FBI agents questioned him, he gave his occupation as “sniper” and frankly detailed how he’d taught others, explaining that he could spend three hours just on the fine points of pulling a trigger, according to video played at trial.
He had also been forthcoming in messages and calls from Syria to friends and the now-ex-wife he’d left behind, according to trial evidence.
“Have you heard of Daesh? Right. I-S-I-S. Do you watch news on TV? That’s where I am located. I am one of its fighters,” he told his ex in a voicemail that authorities translated from Russian. “We are the worst terrorist organization in the world that ever existed.”
He sent photos of himself in camouflage garb with a rifle and pictures of the bloodied bodies of men with whom he said he’d fought. He texted one confidante — in fact a US government informant — a rundown of prominent battles in which he said he’d participated and asked for money to buy a night scope for his rifle.
Later, with the sounds of explosions in the background of Asainov’s phone, he asked another friend for money to send his new wife and children to safety as US-backed forces fought to capture the extremists’ de facto capital of Raqqa in 2017.
Shroff urged jurors not to take his remarks at face value.
“To say the same wrong things over and over again does not make them accurate,” she argued.
After his arrest, a defiant Asainov declared at his arraignment that he was an “Daesh citizen, not a United States citizen,” and jail officials said they later found a hand-drawn version of the militants’ flag in his cell.
He told his mother on the facility’s recorded phones that her son “doesn’t exist anymore,” replaced by a man who saw himself as a holy warrior who fought and killed on divine command, didn’t regret it and would “be fighting until the end.”
“I will never change this path, even if they give me freedom a thousand times,” he told her in one translated call.
“Do you understand?”