AU alumnus becomes NBC foreign corespondent in Egypt

When Ayman Mohyeldin first moved to the United States at six-years-old, he never thought he would go back to his homeland less than two decades later to report on the Arab Spring, the Gaza invasion and the Iraq War.

Class of 2001 AU alumnus Mohyeldin is leaving a five-year career as a correspondent for Al Jazeera English to join NBC. The network announced Aug. 22 that Mohyeldin would become their foreign correspondent based in Egypt on Sept. 21.

Before Mohyeldin began his reporting career, he was just a regular AU student. He loved the classes in his five-year BA/MA program, especially “Individual Freedom vs. Authority.” He liked to hang out with friends on weekends or cheer on the swim and soccer teams.

“He’s a great guy to be around, plain and simple,” said Mohyeldin’s junior year roommate, Jason Moon.

Mohyeldin got his start in journalism while serving as a desk assistant in the Washington bureau on Nebraska Avenue just down the road from AU.

He had originally wanted to go to law school to get a job in the government, but the NBC opportunity landed in his lap when he met a producer from NBC News at Moon’s coach’s barbeque in 2000.

“It wasn’t something I was planning on doing,” Mohyeldin said from Doha, Qatar in a Skype interview with The Eagle.

Only a few months after he graduated in 2001, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks occurred in New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania. News culture shifted, and Mohyeldin said his knowledge of the Middle East and his fluency in Arabic made him a valuable asset.

After working at NBC, Mohyeldin was hired by CNN to work for the international desk. He founded the network’s bureau in Baghdad after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq when he was 23 years old.

During Mohyeldin’s time in Baghdad, he faced the political uncertainty and military instability that characterized the region at the time and had “a front-row seat” to Saddam Hussein’s trial in 2005, he said.

Following his reporting career in Iraq, Mohyeldin reported from the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead, the 2008 Israeli invasion of Gaza in response to Hamas’ rocket attacks into Israel.

“It was an extremely, extremely trying and difficult period for me as a journalist, but more importantly just for having lived through it as a person in the Gaza Strip,” Mohyeldin said.

Worn out from working in two different war zones since graduating from AU, Al Jazeera agreed to make him a correspondent in Egypt.

In November 2010, he wrote a blog post analyzing the situation in Egypt and argued change would never happen from the masses. It would instead need to be initiated by the government.

Two months later, the entire country erupted in revolution and ended the decades-old reign of Prime Minister Hosni Mubarak.

“Every minute of that revolution was extremely inspiring and extremely touching because you saw a side of humanity that I think would have touched any human being, no matter who it was,” Mohyeldin said.

He said he is struck by the fact that all three major networks — NBC, ABC and CBS — expressed interest in hiring him to report international news to American audiences.

The mainstream media’s acceptance of an on-air personality that is not white nor a native-born American speaks to the growing importance of coverage of the Middle East and growing American acceptance of Muslims and Arabs, he said.

“I’m not leaving [Al Jazeera] for the journalism, per se,” Mohyeldin said. “I’m leaving for the opportunity to be that correspondent for American network television [and] what it means just in terms of just cross-cultural communication.”

In the future, he hopes to create social justice documentaries while continuing to report as much as possible. But as continues his reporting in Cairo, Mohyeldin doesn’t forget the lessons he learned at AU and the gifts he received from his education.

“Embrace the diversity that American University has,” Mohyeldin said. “The world is a rapidly changing place, and is becoming more interconnected, and you are really at a very unique environment where you’re being exposed to that well before you get into the professional world.”

But even AU couldn’t prepare him fully for everything he’s seen, and that’s where the fun of journalism comes from, he said.

“The best thing about being a journalist is that you get to travel the world and get access to a front row seat to watching history unfold,” Mohyeldin said. “No classroom’s going to prepare you for that. No education can prepare you for that. I mean, that’s what life is.”

zcohen@theeagleonline.com

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