Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Egyptian movie star: 'Arabs are not terrorists'

From Ian Lee, CNN
updated 12:15 PM EST, Sat January 5, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Khaled El Nabawy is an acclaimed Egyptian movie star
  • He stars in recent Hollywood production, "The Citizen"
  • El Nabawy was one of the first prominent voices in Egypt to support the revolution
  • The actor-turned-activist took Sean Penn to Tahrir Square

(CNN) -- He is a superstar in Arab cinema and has acted alongside Hollywood names such as Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Orlando Bloom in worldwide blockbusters.

Now, acclaimed Egyptian movie star Khaled El Nabawy is raring to conquer new heights, starring in gripping drama "The Citizen," his first lead role in a Hollywood film.

The movie, released last year, has a story line based on the September 11 attacks in the United States. El Nabawy's character, Ibrahim Jarrah, is a newly arrived immigrant from Lebanon, who finds himself wrongly accused of being involved in the terrorist attacks.

"The guy didn't do anything except he was infatuated by the American dream," says El Nabawy of his character in "The Citizen."

"This is why he won the green card lottery but [it is] his bad luck that he arrived one day before 9/11 to New York. He loves America and he's educated, he is cultured, he is helpful and it's a great message through 'The Citizen' that gives hope. It talks about the cooperation that can happen instead of creating revenge between each other."

Egyptian actor Khaled El Nabawy stars in "The Citizen," his first lead role in a Hollywood production. Egyptian actor Khaled El Nabawy stars in "The Citizen," his first lead role in a Hollywood production.
Khaled El Nabawy
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
>
>>
Egyptian actor Khaled El Nabawy Egyptian actor Khaled El Nabawy
Arab actor: 'I want to tell the truth'
Egyptian actor: 9/11 affected Arabs too

See also: 'Egypt's Brad Pitt' calls for people power in Africa

This is the third time in the Egyptian actor's career that he has landed a role in a major Hollywood production. His two previous outings include a smaller part in Ridley Scott's 2005 epic "Kingdom of Heaven," while in 2010 El Nabawy played an Iraqi scientist in "Fair Game," a thriller based on former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson's memoir "Fair Game: My Life As A Spy, My Betrayal By The White House."

"What's common between the three parts -- 'Kingdom of Heaven,' 'Fair Game' and 'The Citizen' -- is that you try to tell people the truth," says El Nabawy. "Arabs are not terrorists; Arabs are kind people, normal people and you cannot portray Arabs through the 15 people who have done 9/11."

El Nabawy, who was discovered by one of Arab cinema's most celebrated directors, the late Youssef Chahine, says he is determined to accurately portray North Africans and Middle Easterners to the rest of the world.

"Of course it is a responsibility, not only towards Arabs [but] toward the other, toward the Americans, toward the West, because I always believe that we know about the West more than the West knows about us," he says.

El Nabawy adds: "I feel that our responsibility is to tell the West the truth about us."

See also: 'Harassment map' empowers Egyptian women

Passionate about his country, El Nabawy was one of the first prominent voices in Egypt to come out in support of the 2011 revolution that resulted in the removal of former president Hosni Mubarak.

"What I saw in Tahrir Square, I saw a great nation itself," says El Nabawy, his face lighting up as he recalls his countrymen's uprising.

"I am very happy to be among them -- it's an honor to be among the Egyptians who paid their life to get their country its dignity and pride back. I am the one who is happy and I'm one of them.

"I have the same desire. It needed all of us to achieve our goal, which is the democracy, which is the change and which is [that] we want our country back, we want our beloved back, we want Egypt."

Read more: Egypt's Jon Stewart getting laughs amidst turmoil

The actor-turned-activist also took "Fair Game" co-star and friend Sean Penn to visit the landmark square "to show the world that an American artist with an Egyptian artist can walk on the streets." It was all part of his initiative, "Come to Egypt," aimed at encouraging people to visit the North African country and experience its rich history and culture.

"I extend you an invitation: Egyptians are waiting for you to celebrate with them their new era," says El Nabawy. "Come to Egypt and you will have a great smile on the Egyptian faces. They are very helpful, they are very kind, they have a great sense of humor."

An ambassador for Egypt to the world, El Nabawy says he is hopeful about his country's future.

"I'm very optimistic because of the Egyptians," he says. "They have a determined will of getting their country back and of giving their country its position -- giving their country what it deserves."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
African Voices
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
Australia's Tim Cahill appeals to the linesman after a disallowed goal during the Group B match between Chile and Australia at Arena Pantanal on June 13, 2014 in Cuiaba, Brazil.
Kenya's national football team may not have made it to the World Cup Finals in Brazil -- but one man will be there for his African nation.
updated 6:44 AM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
African contemporary art is thriving, says author Chibundu Onuzo.
updated 8:30 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Wegkruipertjie, a short film playing at the Durban International Festival
From Ghanaian rom-coms to documentaries celebrating 20 years of South African democracy, festival-goers are spoiled for choice at this year's Durban Film Fest.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
Kalibala with one of the children she supports.
In 2010, Ugandan journalist Gladys Kalibala embarked on a mission to bring attention to her country's lost and abandoned children.
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Tue June 3, 2014
Sunset at Camps Bay with one of Andrew van de Merwe.
A trip to the beach is usually for lounging in the sun. But for Andrew van de Merwe, the sand stretches in front of him as an enormous blank canvas.
updated 8:40 AM EDT, Tue June 17, 2014
Esther Mbabazi, Rwanda's first female pilot
Esther Mbabazi wheels her bag towards the airstairs of the Boeing 737 sitting quietly on the tarmac at Kigali International Airport.
updated 7:22 AM EDT, Tue May 20, 2014
Jun 1978: Filbert Bayi #42 of Tanzania rounds the bend during the 5000 Metre event at the AAA Championships in Crystal Palace, London.
He's smashed world records and revolutionized running during his career. And yet the name of Filbert Bayi has largely been forgotten.
updated 8:49 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Nelson Mandela
Adrian Steirn and the 21 ICONS team have captured intimate portraits of some of South Africa's most celebrated. Here he reveals the story behind the photographs.
updated 6:41 AM EDT, Fri May 9, 2014
As the old adage goes, "If you want it done right, do it yourself" -- and for social activist Rakesh Rajani, those words have become an ethos to live by.
updated 6:50 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
As the head of Kenya Red Cross, Abbas Gullet was one of the first emergency responders at the Westgate shopping mall.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Wed May 28, 2014
David Kinjah njau and Davidson Kamau kihagi of Kenya in action during stage 2 of the 2007 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race.
He's one of Kenya's premier cyclists but David Kinjah's better known as the man that trained Tour de France champion Chris Froome.
updated 8:34 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
A Silverback male mountain Gorilla sits in the dense jungle canopy on the edge of Uganda's Bwindi National Park in this 29, January 2007 photo. Bwindi, or the 'Impenetrable Forest' as it is known to many tourists is home to the majority of Uganda's rare and endangered mountain gorilla population where plans are underway to habituate two more gorilla family groups to counter growing demand from a flourishing gorilla trek tourism business, a major source of income for the Uganda tourism Authority. AFP PHOTO / STUART PRICE. (Photo credit should read STUART PRICE/AFP/Getty Images)
Meet Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, the woman from Uganda trying to save critically endangered mountain gorillas before its too late.
updated 5:59 AM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Jean Claude Nkusi
In Rwanda, young genocide survivors are forming "artificial families" to help each other financially and emotionally.
updated 5:42 AM EDT, Mon May 19, 2014
The President and founder of the organisation 'Femmes Africa Solidarite' (Women Africa Solidarity), Bineta Diop.
Senegalese human rights activist Bineta Diop reveals why she is willing to risk her life to help women in Africa.
updated 6:14 AM EDT, Tue April 1, 2014
Grace Amey-Obeng has built a multi-million dollar cosmetics empire that's helping change the perception of beauty for many.
Each week African Voices brings you inspiring and compelling profiles of Africans across the continent and around the world.
ADVERTISEMENT