Aladdin star Mena Massoud under fire for saying he 'doesn't understand' Mideast politics
Acrimony over Israeli claims to Middle Eastern food is an argument that has raged since 1948. Now, Egyptian-Canadian actor Mena Massoud, star of Disney's live-action hit Aladdin, is the latest to enter the fray, coming under fire on social media for suggesting Arab cuisine is Israeli.
Massoud’s many references to his roots in Egypt, often using his fluent Egyptian accent in media interviews, have brought him closer to his Egyptian and Arab audiences, but have also put him under the spotlight as a public figure, with social media followers scrutinising his politics.
An Instagram video from November 2018, posted on Massoud’s Evolving Vegan channel, featured an interview with the owner of Aviv restaurant in Portland, Oregon, which serves Middle Eastern dishes that Massoud said were “Israeli inspired”.
The video has recirculated in recent days, with a number of social media users attacking Massoud for feeding into a narrative that claims Palestinian and other Middle Eastern food as Israeli.
Palestinians have long accused Israel of “cultural appropriation” of their food, art and literature in an attempt to erase Palestinian heritage from historical memory.
"This snake decides to reinforce the idea that Israeli food consists of Hummus, Shawarma, and Tabboli when in reality, the food is Palestinian/Levantian," one Twitter user said.
In a quick response to the tweet, Massoud said: "Hey dude. Grew up in Toronto going to Isreali [sic] restaurants that served Middle Eastern food. Don’t really understand the politics of it, I was honestly shocked to see the response. Not getting paid for EV. Actually pouring my own money into it. All love man."
But Massoud’s statement that he had no knowledge of the politics behind his followers’ reaction did not satisfy his critics.
The same follower who uses the handle @Egyptianweeknd replied to Massoud by bringing up an interview he gave to Israeli newspaper Ynet:
“You can’t simply deny you had no knowledge of the 'politics of it' after you decided to give an exclusive interview with the Israeli Embassy in Egypt. Your stance is clear. There’s no doubt you know exactly what you’re doing.”
‘Long Live Egypt’
The 27-year-old star was born in Egypt to Coptic Christian parents and immigrated to Toronto when he was three-and-a-half years old.
He said, however, he is still “very, very close” to his Egyptian heritage.
In one of his promotional videos for Aladdin, he dedicated the ad to his Egyptian followers, saying in Arabic "tahya Masr" ("Long live Egypt") three times.
The phrase tayha Masr, however, also happens to be the campaign motto for Egypt’s autocratic president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
“I assume you had great intentions, but saying 'Tahya Masr' three times like you did can be construed as subscribing to Egypt's brand of fascism that cracks down on differing opinions,” Egyptian activist Wael Eskandar tweeted.
“It's an Egyptian cultural nuance and now you know.”